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U.S. sanctions Venezuelan vice president on drug trafficking

15 February 2017

The sanctions included another Venezuelan, a businessman named Samark Jose Lopez Bello, for "providing material assistance, financial support, or goods or services in support of the worldwide narcotics trafficking activities of, and acting for or on behalf of, El Aissami", as well as five USA companies owned or controlled by Lopez Bello.

His associate, Samark Lopez Bello, was also targeted for providing material assistance, financial support or goods or services in support of Mr El Aissami's activities.

Venezuela's Socialist government on Tuesday rejected US allegations that Mr. El Aissami aided drug traffickers, calling them a baseless act of USA aggression.

With a reputation for being a radical among Chavista leaders, 42 year old El Aissami is the former Ministry of Interior and former governor of the Aragua region. "The designation is not aimed at Venezuela or any specific sectors of the Venezuelan economy, but rather is specifically targeted against individuals engaged in narcotics trafficking and the global network of companies that they manage and through which they launder their illicit proceeds", the official said.

With the sanctions, El Aissami's US -based assets have been frozen and he is forbidden from entering the country.

A senior administration official said El Aissami was targeting after several years of investigation before the vice president was appointed to his current role in January.

He's not the first Venezuelan with ties to Maduro to be accused of drug trafficking.

In a statement on his official Twitter account, El Aissami called on his supporters not to be "distracted" by what he decried as a "vile and miserable aggression".

Investigators are not commenting on whether other high-ranking Venezuelan government officials are involved, and deferred to the Justice Department questions about whether the sanctioned vice president faces arrest or imminent indictment.

He made a name for himself in Venezuela by cracking down on drug gangs.

The US Department of the Treasury said that El Aissami, "in his previous roles, supervised or possessed part of over 1000 kilograms of drug shipments from Venezuela, including those heading towards Mexico and the United States as their final destination".

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami) praised the move but said it should be just the beginning.

U.S. sanctions Venezuelan vice president on drug trafficking