(AZCENTRAL) — The Trump administration imposed sanctions Monday against Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, accusing him of playing a significant role in international drug trafficking.
The Treasury Department has been investigating El Aissami for years over his alleged relations with Venezuela’s largest convicted drug trafficker and a Middle Eastern militant group, resulting in the decision to designate him a narcotics trafficker under the federal “Kingpin Act.”
The department said he orchestrated drug shipments from a Venezuelan air base and multiple seaports, some weighing more than 2,200 pounds per shipment.
The department also sanctioned Samark Lopez Bello, a Venezeulan businessman accused of being El Aissami’s frontman. Lopez Bello helped launder money through a network of 13 companies in the U.S., Venezuela, Panama, the British Virgin Islands and the United Kingdom.
Treasury officials would not comment on whether the Justice Department will seek indictments against the two men. But the sanctions include freezing all their U.S.-based assets, which include a twin-engine Gulfstream jet, and blocking all their U.S.-based companies and properties. The pair controlled tens of millions of dollars in Miami real estate alone, a senior Treasury Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the case.
Under the sanctions, the two men are forbidden from traveling to the United States, and people in the U.S. are prohibited from conducting transactions with them or the companies they controlled.
The Treasury official said the operation was years in the planning but did not say whether President Trump signed off on the sanctions before they were implemented.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., called the sanctions “long overdue.”