Trump ally may have broken Venezuela sanctions, US officials say
MIAMI — Erik Prince, a major Republican donor and founder of controversial security firm Blackwater, has been referred to the U.S. Treasury Department for possible sanctions violations tied to his recent trip to Venezuela for a meeting with a top aide of President Nicolas Maduro, two senior U.S. officials said.
There’s no indication that Prince, whose sister is Education Secretary Betsy
DeVos, will be sanctioned for the meeting last month in Caracas with Venezuela’s Vice President Delcy Rodriguez.
But the fact the visit was flagged underscores the concern of officials in the Trump administration over what appeared to be an unauthorized diplomatic outreach to Maduro. This, as support for opposition leader Juan Guaidó inside Venezuela — if not Washabout ington — appears to be waning.
The U.S. officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Little has been revealed about Prince’s surprise trip to Caracas last month. But the mere presence in Venezuela of a businessman with longstanding ties to the U.S. national security establishment prompted questions
whether he was there to open a secret back channel to Maduro on behalf of the Trump administration, something the State Department has strenuously denied.
It also marks something of a reversal for Prince, who earlier in 2019 was thought to have been pitching a plan to form a mercenary army to topple Maduro.
A person familiar with Prince’s visit said he had been asked to travel to Venezuela by an unidentified European businessman with long-standing ties to the oil-rich nation. The person said Prince did not discuss any business nor receive anything of value during his trip — actions that would have violated U.S. financial sanctions on Maduro’s socialist government.
The purpose of the trip was to meet key players in the crisis-wracked nation, not to serve as an emissary for the Trump administration, according to the person, who isn’t authorized to discuss the visit and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The person said Prince, a former Navy SEAL, continues to support the Trump administration’s goal of removing Maduro but believes State Department efforts to reach that goal have failed and new alternatives — which the person did not specify — need to be tried.
Before traveling, Prince notified the National Security Council and Treasury Department about his plans and received no objections, the person said.