The Department of Justice on Thursday set a $25 million bounty for information leading to the arrest of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and his associates for trafficking narcotics from Colombia into the U.S., Attorney General William Barr said at a press conference.
In conjunction with the Justice Department action, the State Department announced a reward of up to $15 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Maduro and up to $10 million for other Venezuelan officials named in the indictment.
While most of the paramilitary revolutionary members of the FARC laid down their arms in 2017, a dissident group of about 2,500 FARC members traffic drugs across the border between Colombia and Venezuela, with permission of the Maduro regime.
“In addition, the regime is allowing these drug traffickers to take drugs by a maritime route into the Caribbean. We estimate that somewhere between 200 and 250 metric tons of cocaine are shipped out of Venezuela by these routes per year. Those 250 tons equate to 30 million lethal doses,” AG Barr said, according to a statement.
Charges were also filed against more than a dozen other Venezuelan officials, including the country’s Supreme Court chief justice and the minister of defense.
The years-long investigation, federal authorities said, revealed a government immersed in “corruption at the highest levels.”
The four-count indictment against Maduro was unsealed in New York. It named Diosdado Cabello Rondón, head of Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly; Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios, former director of military intelligence; and Clíver Antonio Alcalá Cordones, a former general in the Venezuelan armed forces.
“The scope and magnitude of the drug trafficking alleged was made possible only because Maduro and others corrupted the institutions of Venezuela and provided political and military protection for the rampant narco-terrorism crimes described in our charges,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said.
Maduro and other officials “expressly intended to flood the United States with cocaine in order to undermine the health and well being of our nation.”
“The Maduro regime was propped up by a sham judiciary and a corrupt military,” Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said, adding that the defense minister authorized regular and enormous shipments of cocaine destined for the U.S.
In 2009, the U.S. and Colombia agreed to a ten-year agreement to allow Air Force planes to use Colombian bases to stop the traffickers.
The drug trade has always tied these two countries, and the broader region, together, as the contraband works its way onto American shores via land, sea and routes. And has for decades.
AG Barr, the 85th U.S. Attorney General, on his first foray leading the DOJ, as the 77th AG, from 1991 to 1993, when he provided the counsel to pardoning six officials caught in the Iran-Contra scandal, which was ultimately, a three-way trade of guns, cocaine and cash between the U.S., Nicaragua and Iran.
As an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, in 1989, he also justified the U.S. invasion of Panama to arrest Manuel Noriega to punish him for his role in the drugs business.