WASHINGTON – The US government on Monday imposed economic sanctions on Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami “for playing a significant role in international narcotics trafficking.”
The US Department of the Treasury also sanctioned businessman Samark Jose Lopez Bello for providing “material assistance, financial support, or goods or services in support of the international narcotics trafficking activities of, and acting for or on behalf of, El Aissami,” a top US official said in a telephone call with reporters.
The sanctions were not a reaction, the official said, to the appointment in January of El Aissami to the Venezuelan vice presidency.
The move “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 the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
“This case highlights our continued focus on narcotics traffickers and those who help launder their illicit proceeds through the United States. Denying a safe haven for illicit assets in the United States and protecting the U.S. financial system from abuse remain top priorities of the Treasury Department,” said the official.
The sanctions block the assets of the two individuals under US jurisdiction and forbid US citizens from engaging in transactions with them.
Including a member of the Venezuelan government on the list of Treasury sanctions does not mean that the Venezuelan government is also being sanctioned, said the Treasury.
A total of 34 US lawmakers last week asked President Donald Trump to take immediate measures to punish Venezuelan government officials who are “benefitting” from human rights violations that, they say, are occurring in the oil-producing nation.
On Jan. 4, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced that El Aissami – who until that point had been governor of the central state of Aragua – would serve as the country’s new vice president.
"El Aissami 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 of Venezuela. El Aissami oversaw or partially owned narcotics shipments of more than 1,000 kilograms from Venezuela on multiple occasions, including shipments to Mexico and to the United States. In addition to his own direct narcotics trafficking activities, El Aissami facilitated, coordinated, and protected other national – other narcotics traffickers operating in Venezuela," said a Senior Administration Official.
"In addition, today OFAC is also designating a key frontman for El Aissami, Samark Jose Lopez Bello. Lopez Bello oversees an international network of petroleum distribution, engineering, telecommunications, and asset holding companies. Lopez Bello launders drug proceeds and is used by El Aissami to purchase certain assets. Lopez Bello also handles business arrangements in financial matters for El Aissami, generating significant profits as a result of illegal activity benefiting El Aissami," the Senior Administration Official said.
OFAC also designated eight companies registered in Venezuela, the British Virgin Islands, Panama, and the United Kingdom for being owned or controlled by Lopez Bello or by other designated entities. And finally, OFAC blocked an additional five companies in the United States that are owned by or controlled by Lopez Bello or other designated entities as well as significant real estate holdings in the Miami, Florida area.
As a result of today’s action, any property or interest in property of these individuals and entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them. This means that among other activities, U.S. persons are going to be – are generally prohibited from engaging in financial transactions or other business dealings with the blocked individuals and entities identified.US Briefing on Sanctions on Venezuela Vice President Tareck El Aissami