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Ex-Venezuela vice president charged with violating US sanctions

A former vice president of Venezuela whom the Trump Administration accused of being a drug trafficker in 2017 has been charged with evading US sanctions, Manhattan federal prosecutors announced on Friday.

Prosecutors say that Tareck El Aissami, who served as VP under President Nicolas Maduro two years ago, and business partner Samark Jose Lopez Bello violated the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act — which targets drug smugglers from other countries — when they hired US companies to fly them across the globe by private jet as recently as Feb. 23 of this year.

Those sanctioned by the act cannot do business with any person or company in the US, the Manhattan Federal Court indictment explains.

The two men remain at large, but the charges could help get Al Aissami extradited to the United States should he ever travel to a cooperating country.

Four other men who are either US citizens or visa holders were also charged for their part in allegedly helping the two Venezuelans, their family and associates jet set to Turkey, Russia, and the Dominican Republic, the court papers allege.

El Aissami and Lopez Bello allegedly paid for the flights “using associates to deliver bulk cash in Caracas, Venezuela that was smuggled into the United States,” the indictment says.

Just last month, Alejandro Miguel Leon Maal — a Venezuelan-born American living in Florida who owns private charter company SVMI Solution LLC — allegedly helped fly El Aissami via private jet from Russia to Venezuela, the court documents charge.

Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said the men violated US sanctions, “by employing U.S. companies to provide international transport via private jet. The enforcement of these sanctions is critical to the national security interests of the U.S.”

El Aissami and Lopez Bello were hit with five felony charges related to violating the Kingpin Act for which they face up to 150 years behind bars if convicted.

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