15 current, former Venezuelan officials charged with narco-terrorism, corruption, drug trafficking and other criminal charges
NEW YORK – Charges against former President of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro Moros, Venezuela's Vice President for the Economy, Venezuela's Minister of Defense and Venezuela's Chief Supreme Court Justice, as well as two members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were announced Thursday, following multiple investigations by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York's El Dorado Task Force and HSI Miami, as well as investigations by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
"The Venezuelan regime, once led by Nicolás Maduro Moros, remains plagued by criminality and corruption," said Attorney General Barr. "For more than 20 years, Maduro and a number of high-ranking colleagues allegedly conspired with the FARC, causing tons of cocaine to enter and devastate American communities. Today's announcement is focused on rooting out the extensive corruption within the Venezuelan government – a system constructed and controlled to enrich those at the highest levels of the government. The United States will not allow these corrupt Venezuelan officials to use the U.S. banking system to move their illicit proceeds from South America nor further their criminal schemes."
"Today we announce criminal charges against Nicolás Maduro Moros for running, together with his top lieutenants, a narco-terrorism partnership with the FARC for the past 20 years," said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman. "The scope and magnitude of the drug trafficking alleged was made possible only because Maduro and others corrupted the institutions of Venezuela and provided political and military protection for the rampant narco-terrorism crimes described in our charges. As alleged, Maduro and the other defendants expressly intended to flood the United States with cocaine in order to undermine the health and wellbeing of our nation. Maduro very deliberately deployed cocaine as a weapon. While Maduro and other cartel members held lofty titles in Venezuela's political and military leadership, the conduct described in the Indictment wasn't statecraft or service to the Venezuelan people. As alleged, the defendants betrayed the Venezuelan people and corrupted Venezuelan institutions to line their pockets with drug money."
Maikel Jose Moreno Perez, 54, current Chief Justice of the Venezuelan Supreme Court, was charged via a criminal complaint in the Southern District of Florida with conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering in connection with the alleged corrupt receipt or intended receipt of tens of millions of dollars and bribes to illegally fix dozens of civil and criminal cases in Venezuela.
The complaint alleges, for example, that the defendant authorized a seizure and sale of a General Motors auto plant with an estimated value of $100 million in exchange for a personal percentage of the proceeds. Similarly, the complaint alleges that the defendant received bribes to authorize the dismissal of charges or release against Venezuelans, including one charged in a multibillion-dollar fraud scheme against the Venezuelan state-owned oil company.
According to the criminal complaint, in or around October 2014, Moreno Perez told U.S. authorities in a visa application that he earned the equivalent of about $12,000 per year from his work in Venezuela. From 2012 to 2016, the defendant's U.S. bank records show approximately $3 million in inflows to the defendant's accounts, primarily from large round-dollar transfers from shell corporations with foreign bank accounts linked to Co-Conspirator 1, who is a former criminal defense attorney in Venezuela that currently controls a media company in Venezuela.
As set out in the criminal complaint, the defendant's bank records allegedly show that from 2012 to 2016, the defendant spent approximately $3 million, primarily in the geographical area of South Florida. For example, bank records allegedly show that Moreno Perez spent about $1 million for a private aircraft and private pilot, more than $600,000 in credit or debit card purchases at stores primarily in South Florida (including tens of thousands of dollars at luxury stores in Bal Harbor, such as Prada and Salvatore Ferragamo), about $50,000 in payments to a luxury watch repair store in Aventura, and approximately $40,000 in payments to a Venezuelan beauty pageant director.
HSI's Miami Field Office conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael N. Berger of the Southern District of Florida is in charge of the prosecution.
HSI New York
A separate superseding indictment unsealed Thursday in the Southern District of New York charges Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah, 45, Venezuela's vice president for the economy, Joselit Ramirez Camacho, 33, Venezuela's superintendent of cryptocurrency (Sunacrip), and Samark Lopez Bello, 45, a Venezuelan businessman, with a series of crimes relating to efforts to evade sanctions imposed by OFAC against Maduro Moros, El Aissami Maddah, and Lopez Bello.
The indictment alleges that from February 2017 until March 2019, El Aissami Maddah and Ramirez Camacho worked with U.S. persons and U.S.-based entities to provide private flight services for the benefit of Maduro's 2018 presidential campaign, in violation of OFAC's sanctions targeting Maduro after he organized elections for the illegitimate National Constituent Assembly that Cabello Rondon now leads.
ICE HSI added El Aissami and his associate Lopez to its Most Wanted list for international narcotics trafficking and money laundering in late 2019. The actions followed OFAC administrative sanctions that led to their special designations as narcotics traffickers in 2017, criminal charges filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York in early 2019, and an HSI New York El Dorado investigation.
As alleged in the indictment unsealed Thursday, Ramirez, working with El Aissami and Lopez, abused his power as Venezuela's Superintendent of Cryptocurrency to violate U.S. sanctions and solidify Maduro's illegal grip on Venezuela. All three individuals are currently fugitives from justice.
El Aissami, a citizen and national of Venezuela, is the former Executive Vice President of Venezuela and current Minister for National Industry and Production. 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.
According to the OFAC notices, El Aissami received payment for the facilitation of drug shipments belonging to Venezuelan drug kingpin Walid Makled Garcia. He is also linked to the coordination of 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, Barrera Barrera, and Gonzalez Polanco were previously named as specially designated narcotics traffickers (SDNTs) pursuant to the Kingpin Act by the President or the Secretary of the Treasury in April 2009, March 2010, and May 2008, respectively.
Lopez Bello is a Venezuelan businessman and key frontman for EI Aissami. Lopez has been the subject of a year-long manhunt following the takedown of a complex international sanctions-evasion and money laundering operation. For more than two years, Lopez and others defrauded the U.S. government by engaging in transactions prohibited by the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act and related regulations, in addition to evading sanctions imposed by OFAC pursuant to the Kingpin Act and related regulations.
OFAC further designated or identified as blocked property 13 companies owned or controlled by Lopez or other designated parties that comprise an international network of petroleum, distribution, engineering, telecommunications, and asset holding companies across the British Virgin Islands, Panama, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Venezuela.
Lopez, a former Venezuelan official, also owned or controlled five U.S.-based companies that were blocked pursuant to the OFAC sanctions, with assets valued at $511 million dollars.
OFAC designated El Aissami and associate Lopez as SDNTs pursuant to the Kingpin Act in February 2017 for playing a significant role in international narcotics trafficking. Following the imposed sanctions, El Aissami and Lopez were charged March 8, 2019 in Manhattan federal court with criminal violations of the Kingpin Act. Later that year, HSI New York's El Dorado Financial Crimes Task Force (El Dorado) began its own investigation and both individuals were added to HSI's Most Wanted list.
Joselit Ramirez Camacho is a Government of Venezuela (GoV) official with deep political, social, and economic ties to multiple identified narcotics kingpins, including EI Aissami. Ramirez currently serves as Venezuela's Superintendent of Cryptocurrency (Sunacrip). Previously, he served as the General Director of the Vice Presidency of the Venezuelan Republic under El Aissami when, in 2017, OFAC designated El Aissami as an SDNT.
As a result of OFAC's SDNT designations, U.S. persons were prohibited from engaging in any transactions involving funds or property in which El Aissami had an interest. This prohibition barred U.S. persons from accepting payments from SDNTs. The prohibition also applied more broadly to preclude U.S. persons from providing services to SDNTs; the pertinent regulations specifically prohibit transportation services. The Kingpin Act and related OFAC regulations also prohibited individuals from evading and attempting to evade the blocking effect of the SDNT designations.
The superseding indictment unsealed in the Southern District of New York today alleges that, from February 2017 until March 2019, El Aissami and Ramirez worked with U.S. persons and U.S.-based entities to charter private jets for travel services for the benefit of Maduro's 2018 presidential campaign, in violation of OFAC's sanctions.
The U.S. Department of State, through its Narcotics Rewards Program, is offering a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of El Aissami Maddah.
HSI's New York Field Office conducted the investigation. This case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York's Terrorism and International Narcotics
An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
About HSI New York's El Dorado Financial Crimes Task Force
El Dorado is the premier financial enforcement and investigative task force in the world, responsible for detecting, disrupting and dismantling transnational criminal financial networks by preventing their access to U.S. financial systems and stemming the flow of their illicit funds through indictments, arrests, and seizures. Within El Dorado, the Foreign Corruption and Sanctions Group consists of special agents, task force officers and intelligence analysts that aggressively target and investigate organizations and individuals that threaten the national security, economy, and policies of the U.S. These investigations, executed in conjunction with other U.S. government agencies such as OFAC, FinCEN, the U.S. Departments of State and Defense, along with foreign law enforcement partners, are founded on a comprehensive analysis of all available holdings, sanction identifications and special designations that provides HSI investigators with a pathway to attack the illicit financial flows that support and sustain criminal individuals and organizations around the world. HSI then employs a multi-faceted investigative approach that includes international undercover operations, judicially authorized wiretaps, and other sensitive investigative techniques to target these state/non-state actors that seek to exploit the national economic security of the U.S.
About ICE Homeland Security Investigations
ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is a critical investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security and a vital U.S. asset in combating criminal organizations illegally exploiting America's travel, trade, financial and immigration systems. It investigates more than 400 violations of federal law, including all types of cross-border criminal activities involving child exploitation, commercial trade, fraud, financial crimes, human rights violations and human smuggling, national security and public safety threats, terrorism, narcotics and weapons smuggling, and other types of contraband. ICE HSI special agents also conduct investigations aimed at protecting critical infrastructure industries that are vulnerable to sabotage, attack or exploitation.
With more than 8,500 special agents and intelligence analysts assigned to more than 200 cities throughout the U.S. and more than 60 offices in more than 50 countries around the globe, ICE HSI works many of its cases alongside investigators from the FBI, Europol, INTERPOL, along with other local, state, federal, and foreign law enforcement agencies.
ICE warns the public to not attempt apprehending the subject. If you have information about the whereabouts of this fugitive, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: The Department of Justice's official court documents, defendants chart, wanted posters, map of drug routes, and other materials can be found here.