The Trump administration on Thursday charged Nicolás Maduro and 14 other high-ranking Venezuelan officials with narcoterrorism, drug trafficking, corruption, and other crimes, accusing them of using cocaine as a "weapon" to "flood the US."
Two federal indictments unsealed Thursday allege that Maduro and former and current officials in his regime partnered with dissidents of FARC — a violent rebel group in Colombia — for 20 years to engage in drug trafficking, causing "tons of cocaine to enter and devastate American communities."
The Department of Justice alleged that Maduro and other officials "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," US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said Thursday. "As alleged, the defendants betrayed the Venezuelan people and corrupted Venezuelan institutions to line their pockets with drug money.”
The US government is offering a reward of up to $15 million for information leading to Maduro's arrest.
Sitting foreign leaders normally enjoy diplomatic immunity in other countries, but the US and dozens of other nations recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's legitimate president. The indictments against Maduro call him the "former president."
The sweeping indictments against Maduro are the highest escalation of US efforts to topple Maduro's socialist government, a month after Trump called him "an illegitimate ruler" and a "tyrant" whose "grip on tyranny will be smashed and broken," during his State of the Union address.
Maduro's regime is "awash with criminality and corruption," Attorney General William Barr said Thursday.
The indictments allege that Maduro and his officials led and managed a drug-trafficking organization called the "Cartel of the Suns."
The cartel "sought to not only enrich its members and enhance their power, but also to flood the United States with cocaine and inflict the drug’s harmful and addictive effects on users in the United States," the Justice Department said.
Barr addressed the decision to charge Maduro during the coronavirus pandemic, saying that Venezuelans were "suffering," and accused Maduro's government of blocking essential supplies.
Barr said the best way to support the people of Venezuela would be to "rid the country of this corrupt cabal."