MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro and several key aides on charges of narcoterrorism.
The Trump administration also designated Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism.
The US Department of Justice accused Maduro and other top officials of conspiring with Colombian revels "to flood the United States with cocaine."
Maduro and other officials have each been charged with:
1. Participating in a narco-terrorism conspiracy, which carries a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum of life in prison.
2. Conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, which carries a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum of life in prison.
3. Using and carrying machine guns and destructive devices during and in relation to, and possessing machine guns and destructive devices in furtherance of, the narco-terrorism and cocaine-importation conspiracies, which carries a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum of life in prison.
4. Conspiring to use and carry machine guns and destructive devices during and in relation to, and to possess machine guns and destructive devices in furtherance of, the narco-terrorism and cocaine-importation conspiracies, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
During the press conference, an official announced the US is offering rewards of up to $15 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Maduro and up to $10 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of other top officials.
Watch the press conference in its entirety
US Attorney General William Barr said this has been the works for a long time when asked about the timing of this announcement.
"The Venezuelan regime, once led by Nicolás Maduro Moros, remains plagued by criminality and corruption," said Attorney General Barr. "For more than 20 years, Maduro and a number of high-ranking colleagues allegedly conspired with the FARC, causing tons of cocaine to enter and devastate American communities. Today's announcement is focused on rooting out the extensive corruption within the Venezuelan government – a system constructed and controlled to enrich those at the highest levels of the government. The United States will not allow these corrupt Venezuelan officials to use the U.S. banking system to move their illicit proceeds from South America nor further their criminal schemes."
"Today we announce criminal charges against Nicolás Maduro Moros for running, together with his top lieutenants, a narco-terrorism partnership with the FARC for the past 20 years," said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman. "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. As alleged, Maduro and the other defendants expressly intended to flood the United States with cocaine in order to undermine the health and wellbeing of our nation. Maduro very deliberately deployed cocaine as a weapon. While Maduro and other cartel members held lofty titles in Venezuela's political and military leadership, the conduct described in the Indictment wasn't statecraft or service to the Venezuelan people. As alleged, the defendants betrayed the Venezuelan people and corrupted Venezuelan institutions to line their pockets with drug money."
"Over the last decade, corrupt Venezuelan government officials have systematically looted Venezuela of billions of dollars," said U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan. "Far too often, these corrupt officials and their co-conspirators have used South Florida banks and real estate to conceal and perpetuate their illegal activity. As the recent charges show, Venezuelan corruption and money laundering in South Florida extends to even the highest levels of Venezuela's judicial system. In the last couple of years, the US Attorney's Office in South Florida and its federal law enforcement partners have united to bring dozens of criminal charges against high-level regime officials and co-conspirators resulting in seizures of approximately $450 million dollars."
"These indictments expose the devastating systemic corruption at the highest levels of Nicolas Maduro's regime," said DEA Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon. "These officials repeatedly and knowingly betrayed the people of Venezuela, conspiring, for personal gain, with drug traffickers and designated foreign terrorist organizations like the FARC. Today's actions send a clear message to corrupt officials everywhere that no one is above the law or beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement. The Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration will continue to protect the American people from ruthless drug traffickers – no matter who they are or where they live."
"The collaborative nature of this investigation is representative of the ongoing work HSI and international law enforcement agencies perform each day, often behind the scenes and unknown to the public, to make our communities safer and free from corruption," said HSI's Acting Executive Associate Director Alysa D. Erichs. "Today's announcement highlights HSI's global reach and commitment to aggressively identify, target and investigate individuals who violate U.S. laws, exploit financial systems, and hide behind cryptocurrency to further their illicit criminal activity. Let this indictment be a reminder that no one is above the law - not even powerful political officials."
Venezuela is now in the company of only four other countries -- North Korea, Iran, Sudan and Syria -- that have "repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism," and will enable the US government to implement further crippling sanctions on the Maduro regime.
The official designation comes several months after a period of historic tumult in Venezuela that saw Maduro's leadership challenged following an election condemned by international authorities and massive street protests. The US and a host of other countries and international bodies have instead recognized the president of Venezuela's National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as the country's leader, and the Trump administration has waged a campaign of aggressive economic punishment that aimed to force Maduro out of power.
The US has accused the Maduro regime of widespread human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrest and the detention of Venezuelan citizens.
Members of the regime have also been accused in the past of facilitating narcotrafficking operations in the country, in part to fuel a crumbling economy marred by rampant government corruption.
US officials have also said that Venezuela is harboring and working with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and the reemerging Colombian insurgent group FARC, both of which are designated terrorist organizations by the US.
(©2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company, contributed to this report.)
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