The Justice Department unsealed criminal charges against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and other regime heavies on Thursday in connection with alleged narcoterrorism and drug smuggling into the United States.
Attorney General William Barr announced the charges at the Justice Department in Washington with some officials in attendance and others connected via teleconference — precautions taken because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The charges involve 15 defendants, including Maduro and other political and military leaders in Venezuela. The regime is a cesspit of corruption, Barr alleged, as the strongman and his lieutenants have abetted smuggling and, Barr said, laundered money for drug traffickers.
Venezuela's Guaidó Vows To Reclaim Legislature After Takeover By Maduro Supporters
Venezuela also is accused of permitting Colombians linked with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — the People's Army, known by its Spanish initials, FARC — to use its airspace to fly cocaine north through Central America to destinations in North America, Barr said.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, said the scheme between the Colombians and Venezuelans had been operating for some two decades and represented a deliberate strategy by Maduro's regime to "flood the United States with cocaine.
The Justice Department officials defended the decision to charge a foreign head of state and other government leaders because, among other reasons, they said Maduro and the others had broken U.S. law, putting the matter squarely within the power of the department.
Barr also observed that Washington does not consider Maduro to be Venezuela's rightful president. He also said that making the announcement during the coronavirus crisis was a coincidence of timing.
Barr said interdiction by America and its allies of contraband at sea has increased in recent months — in cases, for example, in which the U.S. Coast Guard stops speedboats or semi-submersible vessels that ferry drugs north in the Eastern Pacific Ocean or in the Caribbean Sea.
That increases the importance of the "air bridge," Barr said, which compels action by American authorities to try to constrain it by exposing the Venezuelan regime's involvement.
"As we increase our interdiction in both oceans, we are concerned this is being developed as a way of avoiding our maritime interdiction — which makes going after this particular route important for us right now," Barr said.
Months of pressure on Venezuela
The announcement of the charges followed months of pressure by President Trump's administration on Maduro's regime, which the United States considers illegitimate following an election deemed unfair by many world powers.
Venezuelan Officers Who Fled To Colombia Are 'Adrift' As Maduro Holds Onto Power
Washington has supported alternative political forces in Caracas against Maduro and Trump invited the man he recognizes as Venezuela's leader, Juan Guaidó, to the State of the Union address this year.
Maduro is unlikely to be arrested and tried in the United States, but Berman noted that the State Department has offered a $15 million reward for his capture.
Law enforcement officials also said that live indictments in the United States justice system complicate the ability for Maduro or his cronies to travel outside Venezuela, and certainly for them to try to travel to the United States.
The Justice Department does have a track record of bringing major drug offenders to face trial, including Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera — the infamous "El Chapo" — who was convicted in Brooklyn last year and sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years.
Understand that this is very different than bringing indictments against drug traffickers, who can be extradited to the US by their host governments. In this case, it IS the government of Venezuela, and they are probably sitting back laughing at the US because they have no ability to come to Venezuela and arrest all the people involved. The Cartel of the Suns is the upper echelon of the politicians and military.
Disagree blanco puro. Maduro was turned downed by the IMF for a loan of USD $5B. China, is their last gasp. Xi is thinking about it, but haven't paid interest in a couple of years. The only income they get is from oil and it is collapsing.
Trump, declared a "Racist Cowboy" today by Maduro. One strikes out when they want to mislead and energize the other red shirts. Guido is the rightful leader and Maduro and his money grubbing friends, hopefully are short for this world. I seriously dislike this man and his cronies. For public consumption.
Parro - Maybe Venezuela was turned down by the IMF for a loan, but Maduro personally is doing just fine he has enough money and so do his cronies.
As soon as coronavirus is done, the shipment of coke will continue as normal and money will flow just the same and they will be fine, by "they" i mean the Cartel of the Suns.
I won't get into the discussion about who the legitimate President is, that's another topic altogether.
You might not like Maduro, but then again which scumbag badguy is likeable? It comes with the territory to be an asshole. Don't hate the player, hate the game, that's what I say. Trump is an asshole too, but he's our asshole so we cheer for him.
Maduro, a red shirt who followed the Bolavistas. They've rigged elections, nationalized industry (Chevron/Exxon) and could not maintain them, took bribes from Olbredecht and AMG leaving them with a trillion! dollars of unfinished projects, have accepted Cuban, Chinese and Russian advisors? Give me a frigging break. This bus driver only rules by a hard hand of motorcycle thugs and mis-guided red shirts, who have been fed and given gas by the same. This guy, must go down! Screw him!! Let the chicken flee to Cuba. Where is Evo Morales now? flitting from country to country. The Socialist edict, the people's curse.
Guiado, hopefully something else to get Venezuela out of their mud.
By the way, pictures of kids laying on top of kids today. Coronavirus attacks density, no social distancing. No healthcare system and only care for ones-self? He is a villain and despicable. Put him in barrios where he claims he from. See how he does.
Blanco, Morales in Argentia not Cuba? When did I say he was in Cuba? Don't know, he was Bolivista as well, dominating the vote through corruption. You can ask the tin miners/ The highest capital in South America. they know about Evo.
oh you said let him flee to Cuba, where is Morales now....
but anyways Morales was kicked out of Bolivia by the military and opposing party. Maduro and his military work hand in hand, THAT is the Cartel of the Suns, so he isn't going anywhere. He would have no power in Cuba, in Venezuela he has the entire military and law enforcement to do his work
Mr Carvajal turned against the government of President Nicolás Maduro in February 2019 and backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's president.
He fled Venezuela on a boat and was arrested in Madrid in April 2019.
He then disappeared in November 2019 after a Spanish court ruled he should be extradited to the US. Spanish police have been unable to locate him since.
Venezuelan ex-spy chief arrested in Spain
Mr Carvajal - who denies wrongdoing - had been under US sanctions since 2008 due to allegations he helped Colombia's Farc rebel group and protected US-bound drug shipments.
The former Venezuelan intelligence chief was in Spain before disappearing
Federal charges which accuse him of co-ordinating a 5,600kg (12,345lb) shipment of cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico in 2006 became public in 2014.
The US Justice Department said in April that, if convicted, he could face between 10 years and life in prison.
Washington also believes that Mr Carvajal could share incriminating evidence about Mr Maduro.
The former general was a close ally of Venezuela's late socialist leader Hugo Chávez but later denounced his successor President Maduro. He was stripped of his rank after choosing to back opposition leader Juan Guaidó.
He escaped Venezuela by boat to the Dominican Republic before travelling on to Spain.
This was not the first time he had faced extradition to the US. In 2014 he was arrested on drug trafficking charges on the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba. However, he was freed after the extradition request was denied.
WORLD NEWSMARCH 27, 2020 / 5:32 PM / UPDATED 12 HOURS AGO
Alleged Maduro accomplice surrenders to U.S. agents, will help prosecution: sources
CARACAS/BOGOTA (Reuters) - U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents on Friday remanded in custody retired Venezuelan general Cliver Alcala, three people familiar with the matter said, after he agreed to work with prosecutors who charged him, President Nicolas Maduro and other top officials with drug trafficking.
Alcala surrendered to DEA agents in Colombia and waived his right to challenge extradition, the three people told Reuters. He was flown to White Plains, New York from the port city of Barranquilla, where he had been living.
The White House and a DEA spokeswoman referred questions to the U.S. Department of Justice, which declined to comment. The State Department did not reply to a request for comment. Colombia’s National Police declined to comment.
The U.S. government on Thursday indicted Maduro, Alcala and 13 other current and former Venezuelan officials on charges of “narco-terrorism”, the latest escalation of a pressure campaign by U.S. President Donald Trump administration to oust the socialist leader.
Attorney General William Barr accused Maduro and his associates of colluding with a dissident faction of the demobilized Colombian guerrilla group, the FARC, “to flood the United States with cocaine.”
Maduro, in a state television address, dismissed the charges as false and racist, and called Trump a “miserable person.”
The U.S. State Department had offered a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to Alcala’s arrest, while there is a reward of up to $15 million for information aiding Maduro’s detention.
The indictment alleged that Alcala and other top officials received bribes from the FARC in exchange for safe passage for cocaine shipments sent through Venezuela.
Around 2008, at a meeting with senior socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello and then head of the military intelligence unit, Hugo Carvajal, it was decided Alcala would coordinate drug-trafficking with the FARC, according to the indictment.
Cabello and Carvajal were both charged too. They have previously denied accusations of drug trafficking.
Alcala retired from the armed forces as Maduro took over the presidency in 2013 following his predecessor Hugo Chavez’s death from cancer.
Alcala later fell out with the ruling Socialist Party and fled to Colombia, from where he has publicly spoken out against Maduro and backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has staked a rival claim to the presidency with U.S. support.
On Thursday evening, after the indictment’s announcement, Alcala told the DEA over the phone that he would give himself up, one person said.
In a video posted on his Instagram account on Friday afternoon, before leaving with the DEA, Alcala said, “Family, I say goodbye for a while. I face the responsibilities of my actions with the truth.”
Other Venezuelan officials whose indictments were announced on Thursday include Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino and the chief justice of the country’s supreme court, Maikel Moreno, who was charged with money laundering.
One of the people familiar with Friday’s DEA operation said efforts had been under way to convince other individuals who have been indicted to surrender, but it was too early to say whether that would succeed, as unlike Alcala they remained in Venezuela.
Reporting by Angus Berwick, Luis Jaime Acosta, and Sarah Kinosian; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Sarah Lynch in Washington, and Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota; Editing by Vivian Sequera, Daniel Wallis & Simon Cameron-Moore