U.S. indicts Maduro, others on drug charges
Officials respond with investigation of opposition leader
MIAMI — Nicolás Maduro effectively converted Venezuela into a criminal enterprise at the service of drug traffickers and terrorist groups as he and his allies stole billions from the South American country, the U.S. Justice Department charged in several indictments against the embattled socialist and his inner circle that were made public Thursday.
The coordinated unsealing of indictments against 14 officials and governmentconnected individuals, and rewards of $55 million against Maduro and four others, attacked all the key planks of what Attorney General William Barr called the “corrupt Venezuelan regime,” including the Maduro-dominated judiciary and the powerful armed forces.
One indictment by prosecutors in New York accused Maduro and socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello, head of the rubber-stamping constitutional assembly, of conspiring with Colombian rebels and members of the military “to flood the United States with cocaine” and use the drug trade as a “weapon against America.”
Criminal acts to advance a drug and weapons conspiracy that dates back to the start of Hugo Chavez’s revolution in 1999 occurred as far afield as Syria, Mexico, Honduras and Iran, the indictment alleged. Barr estimated that the conspiracy helped smuggle as much as 250 metric tons of cocaine a year out of South America.
Maduro blasted back by accusing the U.S. and Colombia of “giving orders to flood Venezuela with violence.”
His chief prosecutor also announced an investigation against opposition leader Juan Guaidó after one of the individuals indicted on drug charges, retired army Gen. Cliver Alcala, said in a radio interview Thursday that he signed a contract with the opposition leader and his American “advisers” to purchase U.S. assault rifles for a planned coup against Maduro. Guaidó’s team said he has never met Alcala, who has been living openly in Colombia since 2018 despite having been previously sanctioned by the U.S. for drug smuggling.
“As head of state, I am obligated to defend peace and the stability of our homeland given any circumstance that arises,” Maduro tweeted.
As the indictments were announced, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the
State Department would offer cash rewards for information leading to the arrests or convictions of Maduro and his associates, including rewards of up to $15 million for Maduro and up to $10 million each for four others.
“The Maduro regime is awash in corruption and criminality,” Barr said in an online news conference from Washington. “While the Venezuelan people suffer, this cabal lines their pockets with drug money, and the proceeds of their corruption. And this has to come to an end.”
In Miami, prosecutors charged Venezuelan Supreme Court Chief Justice Maikel Moreno with laundering in the U.S. at least $3 million in illegal proceeds from case fixing in Venezuela, including one involving a General Motors factory. Much of the money he spent on private aircraft, luxury watches and shopping at Prada, prosecutors allege. Maduro’s defense minister, Gen. Vladimir Padrino, was charged with conspiracy to smuggle narcotics in a May 2019 indictment unsealed in Washington.
The shock indictment of a functioning head of state is highly unusual and is bound to ratchet up tensions between Washington and Caracas.
The face of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro covered a wall in Caracas, Venezuela, where a man waited in line to fill his car with gas Thursday.