When not serving in various government roles, Venezuelan vice president Tareck El Aissami moves big drug shipments to the United States, does business with Mexico’s ruthless drug cartel Los Zetas, and uses his power to protect other drug traffickers. At least according to US officials.
The US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control on Feb. 13 declared El Aissami a “specially designated narcotics trafficker” under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. That means tens of millions of dollars in assets belonging to him and his associates, including properties in Miami, have been frozen. Americans are banned from having any dealings with him or his companies.
El Aissami, a close ally (link in Spanish) of late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, was governor of the state of Aragua from 2012 to 2017, and Venezuelan minister of interior and justice starting in 2008. He was named vice president by Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro in January.
US officials said their investigation into El Aissami began well before he became VP, and well before the election of US president Donald Trump. The timing of the announcement on Monday coincided with the swearing in of US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
“The implication is quite significant,” said Mnuchin during a press briefing today. “Sanctions are a very important way of us sending a message that we will not stand for illicit activities whether they are drug trafficking or terrorism.”
El Aissami responded to the designation on Twitter: “I receive this miserable and vile aggression as recognition of my condition of anti-imperialist revolutionary!! WE WILL TRIUMPH.”
He’s not the first Venezuelan with ties to Maduro to be accused of drug trafficking. In November, two nephews of Maduro’s wife were convicted in a US federal court of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the US.