The United States Department of the Treasury placed sanctions on vice-president Tarek El Aissami today, freezing all of his assets in the U.S. over suspicions that he is connected with drug trafficking and terrorist organizations. The sanctions also prohibit El Aissami from entering the United States, and blocks any financial institution in the United States from doing business with him.
El Aissami has been on the U.S.authorities’ radar since at least May of 2015, when The Wall Street Journal revealed that prosecutors were investigating several high-ranking PSUV members over their alleged involvement in drug trafficking operations. El Aissami was one of the individuals named in the article.
El Aissami has long been rumoured to have conducted illicit business with Walid Makled, a notorious drug trafficker now imprisoned in Venezuela who claimed that he bribed El Aissami while he was Minister of the Interior.
The sanction was published on the U.S. Department of the Treasury website, and is listed under an addition the Kingpin Act, a 2000 piece of legislation that seeks to “deny significant foreign narcotics traffickers” access to the United States economy.
The website lists El Aissami’s entry in the following way:
EL AISSAMI MADDAH, Tareck Zaidan (a.k.a. EL AISSAMI, Tareck; a.k.a. EL AISSAMI, Tarek), Venezuela; DOB 12 Nov 1974; POB El Vigia, Merida, Venezuela; citizen Venezuela; Gender Male; Passport C1668015 (Venezuela); Identification Number 12.354.211 (Venezuela); Executive Vice President; Former Governor of Aragua State (individual) [SDNTK].
The same website lists another Venezuelan, a man named Samark Jose Lopez Bello, as a target of sanctions. His entry is below:
LOPEZ BELLO, Samark Jose (a.k.a. LOPEZ DELGADO, Samark), Caracas, Venezuela; DOB 27 Jul 1974; POB Venezuela; citizen Venezuela; Gender Male; Passport 122560011 (Venezuela); alt. Passport 055439970 (Venezuela); alt. Passport 002494535 (Venezuela); Identification Number 11.208.888 (Venezuela) (individual) [SDNTK] (Linked To: PROFIT CORPORATION, C.A.; Linked To: YAKIMA TRADING CORPORATION; Linked To: GRUPO SAHECT, C.A.; Linked To: ALFA ONE, C.A.; Linked To: SMT TECNOLOGIA, C.A.; Linked To: SERVICIOS TECNOLOGICOS INDUSTRIALES, C.A.; Linked To: MFAA HOLDINGS LIMITED; Linked To: 1425 BRICKELL AVE 63-F LLC; Linked To: 1425 BRICKELL AVENUE UNIT 46B, LLC; Linked To: 1425 BRICKELL AVENUE 64E LLC; Linked To: AGUSTA GRAND I LLC; Linked To: 200G PSA HOLDINGS LLC).
According to La Patilla, Samark Lopez Bello is a figurehead that El Aissami uses in order to register businesses and hold assets, presumably as an attempt to throw the authorities off-track.
The Department of the Treasury has also sanctioned thirteen corporate entities, five of which are located in Venezuela and all of which are believed to be connected to El Aissami. The Miami Herald estimates that the net worth of all the assets held by the thirteen companies connected to El Aissami could top $ 3 billion.
US Gov’t: El Aissami “Prominent Drug Trafficker”, Linked to Los Zetas Cartel
The Department of the Treasury issued a press release to coincide with the announcement of the sanctions. The release refers to El Aissami as a “prominent drug trafficker”, and outlines some of the allegations against him. The release claims that El Aissami has played “a significant role in international narcotics trafficking”, and linked him directly to the Los Zetas drug cartel in Mexico.
Below, a section of the release outlining El Aissami’s connection to the Los Zetas Mexican drug cartel and Colombian drug traffickers:
He also facilitated, coordinated, and protected other narcotics traffickers operating in Venezuela. Specifically, El Aissami received payment for the facilitation of drug shipments belonging to Venezuelan drug kingpin Walid Makled Garcia. El Aissami also is linked to coordinating drug shipments to Los Zetas, a violent Mexican drug cartel, as well as providing protection to Colombian drug lord Daniel Barrera Barrera and Venezuelan drug trafficker Hermagoras Gonzalez Polanco. Los Zetas, Daniel Barrera Barrera, and Hermagoras Gonzalez Polanco were previously named as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers by the President or the Secretary of the Treasury under the Kingpin Act in April 2009, March 2010, and May 2008, respectively.
Youth Vice-Minister: Young People Leaving “Due To Campaign” Against Venezuela
Following news last week that Venezuelans were the #1 asylum seekers in the United States last year, Vice-Minister of Youth and Sport Ricardo Moreno said today that the reason why so many Venezuelans – particularly young ones – are escaping the country is because the right wing is carrying out a campaign to “demoralize” them into leaving the country.
Moreno made the comments during a show called La Pauta de Hoy on the VTV state-owned network.
He also had a message for any young person thinking about leaving the country:
We want to tell youth that they shouldn’t leave because the homeland that we want will be built by all Venezuelans.
Today’s announcement makes El Aissami the highest-ranking PSUV official to be sanctioned by the United States. In 2015, the U.S. sanctioned seven Venezuelan officials over their alleged involvement in human rights violations in the country.
El Nacional: El Aissami Personally Participated in Drug Trafficking
El Nacional published an article today in which it cited AP as a source, claiming that U.S. authorities have accused El Aissami of supervising “or being the partial owner” of at least 1,000 shipments of illegal drugs to Mexico and the United States.
The same source claims that El Aissami is connected to the Los Zetas cartel in Mexico, and that he personally “facilitated drug shipments from Venezuela” to North America.
It is not clear when exactly El Aissami is alleged to have taken part in these activities.
Brazilian Journalists Detained, “Treated Like Criminals”
Two Brazilian journalists producing a new report on the Odebrecht construction firm in Zulia state were arrested and held under tense conditions by the SEBIN, Venezuela’s political police. The reporters were investigating an incomplete building project in that state that involved the Brazilian construction giant, now besieged in a multi-million dollar corruption scandal.
Journalist Leandro Stoilar was arrested alongside camarographer Gilzon Souza de Olivera, both of whom said that the SEBN agents confiscated every possession they had on them at the time of the arrest: computers, cellphones, cameras, “and other work equipment”. The SEBIN did not return any of the possessions to the men after their release on Sunday, meaning that men returned home to Brazil, according to Stoilar, “with the clothes we were wearing and a back pack we managed to get from them”.
On the conditions in which they were held, Stoilar said:
We were completely cut off in private cells. We were not in contact with anyone. The police followed us even when we went to use the bathroom. We were treated like criminals even though the truth is that we were just doing our job.
Venezuela ranks poorly on press freedom indexes, as the Maduro regime often relies on intimidation, arrest and other repressive measures to attack journalists.
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