Trump administration charges Venezuela president Maduro with drug trafficking and offers $15m reward

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Thursday 26 March 2020 15:28 GMT
The US government has charged Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro with drug trafficking
The US government has charged Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro with drug trafficking (AFP)

The Trump administration has brought criminal charges against Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro and senior members of his government.

Attorney General William Barr gave details of the drug trafficking charges at a news conference on Thursday morning, at which a $15m reward for information leading to Maduro's arrest or conviction was also announced. Maduro is also charged with weapons offences and narcoterrorism, minimum sentences for which are at least 50 years.

The State Department is offering up to a total of $55m in cash rewards for Maduro and his associates, including Vice President Diosdado Cabello.

Members of the government have long been accused of participating in the international drug trade to shore up the crumbling Venezuelan economy. Separate charges were also filed against the defence minister and the head of the supreme court.

Mr Barr described the regime as "awash in corruption and criminality," and went on to say that while the Venezuelan people suffer, "this cabal lines their pockets with drug money and the proceeds of corruption."

The drug trafficking charges involve the Maduro regime allowing Colombia's FARC terrorist group the ability to fly planes filled with drugs over Venezuelan airspace and for the manufacture of cocaine in Venezuelan territory. Mr Barr said that they estimate some 200 to 250 metric tonnes of cocaine is shipped out of the country in this way to flood the US with the drug.

In 2018, Maduro's leadership was challenged following a widely condemned election that led to massive protests across the country. The US and 60 other countries have recognised Juan Guaido, the leader of the national assembly, as the country's rightful leader and pushed economic sanctions to try and force Maduro from power.

US law and international norms generally dictate that sitting foreign leaders are immune from prosecution. However, given that so many countries no longer recognise him as head of state, this does not appear to be a factor.

The Maduro regime is accused of human rights abuses including the torture, detention and murder of Venezuelan citizens.

CNN reported earlier that the State Department would also be designating Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism, according to five sources familiar with the situation. However the State Department has now said that it would not be doing that.

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