US sanctions Venezuela socialist boss for drug trafficking
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The Trump administration has slapped sanctions on Venezuelan socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello, accusing him of drug trafficking and heading a major corruption network that siphoned off funds from state-run companies to accounts in Russia and other countries.
The actions Friday by the Treasury Department freezing any U.S. assets Cabello has and preventing Americans from doing business with him comes as tensions mount between Washington and Venezuela ahead of Sunday’s presidential election, which the Trump administration refuses to recognize.
The Treasury Department in a statement said that Cabello, who is considered the second most-powerful man in Venezuela after President Nicolas Maduro, used his different positions in the government over two decades to “personally profit from extortion, money laundering, and embezzlement.”
The U.S. has sanctioned dozens of top Venezuelan officials in recent months, including Maduro, over human rights abuses, allegations of drug trafficking and the erosion of democratic safeguards. But Cabello had so far been spared, fueling all sorts of intrigue that the U.S. was somehow protecting the outspoken power broker in order to sow distrust among Maduro’s inner circle.
With associates, Cabello is accused of illegally extracting and exporting iron from a state-run conglomerate and laundering the proceeds to Costa Rica and Russia.
Additionally, Treasury said he worked with Vice President Tareck El Aissami, who was sanctioned last year for drug trafficking, to organize drug shipments from Venezuela through the Dominican Republic and onward to Europe. With another associate, he allegedly seized drug loads from small-scale traffickers and combined and exported them through a government-owned airport. Proceeds from those drug deals were divided with others including Maduro, Treasury said.
“The Venezuelan people suffer under corrupt politicians who tighten their grip on power while lining their own pockets. We are imposing costs on figures like Diosdado Cabello who exploit their official positions to engage in narcotics trafficking, money laundering, embezzlement of state funds, and other corrupt activities,” said Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin.
Three others of Cabello’s alleged corruption network were also sanctioned Friday including his brother, Jose David Cabello, who heads Venezuela’s tax office, and his wife, Marleny Contreras, who is tourism minister. The Trump administration also froze the assets of Rafael Sarria, who the Treasury Department said is Cabello’s main frontman, and three Boca Raton, Florida-companies he is linked to as well as 14 properties belonging to him or his companies in Florida and New York.
There was no immediate reaction from the government or Cabello.
But Senator Marco Rubio, who has President Trump’s ear on Venezuela and has called Cabello the “Pablo Escobar of Venezuela,” celebrated on social media.
“What size uniform do you wear these days extra-large or XXlarge?,” he wrote on Twitter with a picture inmates in orange jumpsuits. “Just want to make sure your stay is as comfortable as possible.”