The US Justice Department issued a sweeping indictment on Thursday against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and 14 high-ranking officials to take down a massive, government-run drug-trafficking operation. The charges, contained in four separate indictments, one each filed in Miami and Washington and two filed in New York, allege that Maduro and his government conspired with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to bombard the US with cocaine, devastating American communities. According to the charges, Maduro’s regime also used cryptocurrency to conceal profits from their criminal enterprise.

Attorney General William Barr along with Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon of the US Drug Enforcement Administration and federal prosecutors in Manhattan and Miami announced the charges today at a news briefing.

Venezuela’s vice president for the economy, minister of defense and chief supreme court justice are among those charged.

Federal prosecutors also accuse Venezuela’s vice president for the economy, superintendent of cryptocurrency (Sunacrip), and a Venezuelan businessman of committing a series of crimes to evade US sanctions.

The massive operation, according to prosecutors, allowed Maduro and his top lieutenants to run a narco-terrorism partnership with the FARC for the past 20 years, inflicting devastating systemic corruption and looting Venezuela of billions of dollars.

According to the indictment,

“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.”

Barr says Maduro’s regime is plagued by criminality and corruption.

“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.”

Maduro’s aides were also charged with money laundering, allegedly taking tens of millions of dollars and bribes to illegally fix dozens of civil and criminal cases in Venezuela.

Maduro has denounced the charges via Twitter stating that, as head of state, he is obliged to fight and defend the peace and stability of Venezuela.

The US State Department is offering up to $15 million for information leading to Maduro’s arrest and/or conviction, as well as $10 million and $5 million in rewards for information leading to the arrest of two other top officials.

The Trump administration has been trying to remove Maduro from power for over a year by ramping up sanctions and backing opposition leader Juan Guaidó. The drug charges signal a shift in foreign policy as the US continues to push for Maduro’s exit.

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Featured Image: Shutterstock/Andrea Izzotti

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