US puts Venezuelan VP under ‘kingpin’ sanctions list

Washington: The US has placed Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami under its narcotics “kingpin” sanctions list for allegedly helping international drug traffickers.

“The action today is the culmination of a multi-year investigation under the Kingpin Act to target significant narcotics traffickers in Venezuela and demonstrates that power and influence do not protect those who engage in these illicit activities,” said John E Smith, Acting Director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Treasury also sanctioned El Aissami’s primary frontman, Venezuelan national Samark Jose Lopez Bello.

It also designated or identified as blocked property 13 companies owned or controlled by Lopez Bello or other designated parties that comprise an international network spanning the British Virgin Islands, Panama, the UK, the US, and Venezuela.

“This case highlights our continued focus on narcotics traffickers and those who help launder their illicit proceeds through the US. Denying a safe haven for illicit assets in the United States and protecting the US financial system from abuse remain top priorities of the Treasury Department,” Smith said.

El Aissami was appointed Executive Vice President of Venezuela in January 2017.

He previously served as Governor of Venezuela’s Aragua state from 2012 to 2017, as well as Venezuela’s Minister of Interior and Justice starting in 2008.

Treasury alleged that he facilitated shipments of narcotics from Venezuela, to include control over planes that leave from a Venezuelan air base, as well as control of drug routes through the ports in Venezuela.

In his previous positions, he oversaw or partially owned narcotics shipments of over 1,000 kilograms from Venezuela on multiple occasions, including those with the final destinations of Mexico and the US, the Treasury alleged.

As a result of the action, any property or interest in property of these individuals and entities subject to US jurisdiction are blocked and US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.

A senior administration official later told said the designation is not a reaction to El Aissami’s role as executive vice president of Venezuela.

“The designation is a result of a years-long investigation of narcotics trafficking by Office of Foreign Assets Control. The designation is not aimed at Venezuela or any specific sectors of the Venezuelan economy, but rather is specifically targeted against individuals engaged in narcotics trafficking and the international network of companies that they manage and through which they launder their illicit proceeds,” the official said.