U.S. charges Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro, others with drug trafficking

March 26 (UPI) — U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced drug trafficking charges on Thursday against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and other senior regime officials.

The Justice Department indictment says Maduro “helped manage and ultimately lead” a smuggling organization known as the Cartel of the Suns. The cartel sought to “flood the United States with cocaine and inflict the drug’s harmful and addictive effects on users in this country,” the charges say.

Prosecutors say Maduro and cartel members “prioritized using cocaine as a weapon against America” and imported as much into the United States as possible.

According to the indictment, Maduro’s regime allowed Colombian revolutionaries to use Venezuelan airspace to fly cocaine through Central America to destinations in North America.

Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the scheme has been going for two decades.

Prosecutors also say Maduro personally negotiated drug shipments and coordinated with Honduras and other countries in facilitating the illegal drug trade.

The others charged are National Constituent Assembly President Diosdado Cabello Rondon, former military intelligence agency Director Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios, and leaders of the Colombian FARC revolutionary group.

The State Department offered a reward of up to $15 million through its Narcotics Rewards Program for information leading to the arrest of Maduro and rewards of up to $10 million each for information related to the others charged in the indictment.

“The Venezuelan people deserve a transparent, responsible, representative government that serves the needs of the people — and that does not betray the trust of the people by condoning or employing public officials that engage in illicit narcotics trafficking,” the State Department said.

The United States formally does not recognize Maduro as the president of Venezuela. It is one of dozens of governments that view opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president, owing to irregularities in Maduro’s 2018 re-election.