The Justice Department unsealed criminal charges against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and other regime heavies on Thursday in connection with alleged narcoterrorism and drug smuggling into the United States.
Attorney General William Barr announced the charges at the Justice Department in Washington with some officials in attendance and others connected via teleconference — precautions taken because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The charges involve 15 defendants, including Maduro and other political and military leaders in Venezuela. The regime is a cesspit of corruption, Barr alleged, as the strongman and his lieutenants have abetted smuggling and, Barr said, laundered money for drug traffickers.
Venezuela also is accused of permitting Colombians linked with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — the People’s Army, known by its Spanish initials, FARC — to use its airspace to fly cocaine north through Central America to destinations in North America, Barr said.
The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, said the scheme between the Colombians and Venezuelans had been operating for some two decades and represented a deliberate strategy by Maduro’s regime to “flood the United States with cocaine.”
In defense of the charges
The Justice Department officials defended the decision to charge a foreign head of state and other government leaders because, among other reasons, they said Maduro and the others had broken U.S. law, putting the matter squarely within the power of the department.
Barr also observed that Washington does not consider Maduro to be Venezuela’s rightful president. He also said that making the announcement in a Justice Department headquarters emptied out for the coronavirus crisis was a coincidence of timing.