U.S. in­dicts Maduro, oth­ers on drug charges

Of­fi­cials re­spond with in­ves­ti­ga­tion of op­po­si­tion leader

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - WEATHER DESK -

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 AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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