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US indicts Venezuela ex-vice president Tareck El Aissami

Venezuelan Industry Minister and ex-vice president Tareck El Aissami was indicted in New York and charged with violating US sanctions, along with businessman Samark Lopez Bello
AFP/File
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New York (AFP)

The United States indicted former Venezuelan vice president Tareck El Aissami on sanctions violations Friday, two years after naming him a narcotics "kingpin" for allegedly giving cover to drug traffickers.

Aissami and businessman Samark Lopez Bello were indicted together in New York and charged with violating US sanctions by using private jets to set up meetings around the world.

"El Aissami and Lopez Bello allegedly used private jets to set up private meetings around the globe including Turkey and Russia," Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent Angel Melendez said in a statement.

"It is necessary to impose sanctions against foreign persons seeking to gain power and control by circumventing the law."

The indictment covered activities by the two, along with four other men named in the indictment, that began in 2017 and continued through last week.

The indictment charged that they violated sanctions when they sued US companies to arrange and pay for the flights, the purpose of which was not explained.

The indictment came as the US steps up pressure on the embattled government of President Nicolas Maduro, who the US has branded illegitimate.

El Aissami has been a key ally of Maduro.

The US government is leading international pressure to have Maduro replaced by opposition leader Juan Guaido, whom Washington recognizes as the official interim president.

El Aissami, and Lopez Bello were designated as complicit in narcotics trafficking in February 2017 under the US Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.

El Aissami has served as Venezuelan interior minister and was vice president from January 2017 to June 2018, when he shifted to lead the Industry Ministry.

The 2017 designation alleged that as interior minister El Aissami was paid to help protect shipments by Venezuelan drug boss Walid Makled Garcia, and helped coordinate them with Mexico's Los Zetas cartel.

Lopez Bello, the US Treasury said at the time, was a frontman for El Aissami and laundered drug proceeds.

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