TL;DR: Letters from Venezuela is an exclusive CoinSpice series, an inside look from a reporter on the ground, documenting the South American nation’s last stand among sanctions, political unrest, international condemnation and concern, economic collapse, and the specter of cryptocurrency possibly demonstrating its main use case. In this installment, Nicolás Maduro, head of the regime, and other important officers of the Venezuelan government were indicted by the United States for drug trafficking and trying to evade the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctions.
Maduro Indicted on Drug Trafficking Charges
During a virtual press conference, Attorney General William Barr surprised the international community by indicting Venezuelan regime leader Nicolás Maduro and a number of his closest collaborators on drug trafficking charges. Barr, in conjunction with officers of Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Administration, declared Maduro was a key asset in a cartel operation (dubbed “Cartel Of The Suns”) with the objective of filling the US with drugs, principally cocaine, using Venezuelan infrastructure for the transport of narcotics all over the world.
Millions in rewards for info leading to the arrest/conviction of high ranking Venezuelan officials charged with narco-terrorism, corruption & drug trafficking. Read more https://t.co/4MVuqh5fkW pic.twitter.com/RrBY7x4gUw
— DEA HQ (@DEAHQ) March 26, 2020
According to the indictment, Maduro directly “negotiated multi-ton shipments of FARC-produced cocaine; directed that the Cártel de Los Soles provide military-grade weapons to the FARC; coordinated foreign affairs with Honduras and other countries to facilitate large-scale drug trafficking; and solicited assistance from FARC leadership in training an unsanctioned militia group that functioned, in essence, as an armed forces unit for the Cártel de Los Soles.”
The indictment also involves notorious ex FARC guerrilla leader Ivan Marquez as link between the production of drugs in Colombia and the transport through Venezuela. Other important officials listed in the indictment are Diosdado Cabello, head of the Constituent National Assembly, Tareck El Aissami, current Economic Area Vice President. Barr continued, “The Venezuelan regime, once led by Nicolás Maduro Moros, remains plagued by criminality and corruption. 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.”
Millions Offered in Bounty for Capture
The Department of Justice is offering rewards of up to $15 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Maduro, up to $10 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Diosdado Cabello, and posted a phone number and an email to provide this information.
However, some of the indicted are not related to Maduro’s regime, while others have actually conspired against him in an effort to oust Maduro from power. This is the case with Cliver Alcala, an ex-Chavez supporter who declared being involved in actions of this kind against the current regime, conspiring with the current opposition leader Juan Guaidó (alongside support from the US government). Alcala is currently in Colombia, and has declared he is ready to be extradited to the US to face charges.
This would be one of the only times a Head of State has been indicted by drug trafficking-related crimes since Manuel Noriega of Panama back in 1988. Noriega was ousted during a subsequent invasion of Panama one year later, even though he was known to have strong ties with United States intelligence agencies.
Cryptocurrency Superintendent Included
Despite all this, another superseding indictment was announced involving the current Cryptocurrency Superintendent Joselit Ramirez, accused of “violations of IEEPA, the Kingpin Act, and other offenses related to efforts to evade sanctions imposed by OFAC.” While not explicitly in the document, these charges can be related to the use of the Petro, the Venezuelan cryptocurrency, and other cryptocurrencies to bypass such sanctions. The Trump administration banned the Petro from US markets and exchanges in 2018 via an Executive Order last year.
¡Ratifico mi denuncia! Desde EE.UU. y Colombia se conspira y han dado la orden de llenar de violencia a Venezuela. Como jefe de Estado estoy obligado a defender la Paz y la estabilidad de toda la Patria, en cualquier circunstancia que se nos presente. ¡No han podido ni podrán! pic.twitter.com/jpE4c8JzFr
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) March 26, 2020
US Executive Associate Director for Homeland Security Investigations, Alysa D. Erichs, noted the “announcement highlights HSI’s global reach and commitment to aggressively identify, target and investigate individuals who violate U.S. laws, exploit financial systems, and hide behind cryptocurrency to further their illicit criminal activity,” explicitly mentioning cryptocurrencies as an important factor in the ongoing investigation.
Maduro’s only answer to US accusations has been through his official Twitter account, saying that the US is conspiring to fill Venezuela with violence. “As state chief I will defend peace and stability of our country in any circumstance,” he posted in defiance. The US indictment comes as the country reported more than 100 cases of coronavirus amidst a general lockdown that has affected banking functions, and following a failed attempt by the regime to secure an International Monetary Fund loan.
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