People standing on a balcony draped with the Venezuelan flag (© Ariana Cubillos/AP Images)
Tareck El Aissami, far right, stands with Venezuela's former dictator Nicolás Maduro and other regime officials in Caracas, Venezuela, in 2019. (© Ariana Cubillos/AP Images)

The former vice president of Venezuela used his authority to protect and support drug traffickers in Venezuela, the U.S. said in the latest charges against Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah.

El Aissami “used his position of power to engage in international drug trafficking,” said Angel M. Melendez, special agent in charge of homeland security investigations. He poses “a threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”

Nicolás Maduro appointed El Aissami to be his vice president in 2017. El Aissami is part of the corrupt regime that destroyed Venezuela’s economy, stole the 2018 election, and caused widespread food and medical shortages throughout the country.

El Aissami, currently Maduro’s minister of industry and national production, was charged on March 8 with violating U.S. sanctions and the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designations Act.

Front of airplane seen on a runway (© Shutterstock)
The latest charges accuse El Aissami of illegally chartering private jets through U.S. companies. (© Shutterstock)

Even in Maduro’s corrupt inner circle, El Aissami’s notoriety stands out. In 2017, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) named him as a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker for facilitating shipments of drugs (often of more than 1,000 kilograms) through Venezuelan ports and air bases. While in office, he also used his authority to protect and support drug traffickers in Venezuela.

The United States imposed sanctions on El Aissami and his business partner, Samark Jose López Bello, which forbade them from doing business in the United States or with U.S. companies.

However, according to the latest charges against El Aissami and López Bello, they violated these sanctions by hiring U.S. companies to provide private jets to carry them around the world. If convicted on all counts, both El Aissami and López Bello, as well as two Americans who helped facilitate the prohibited transactions, could face up to 150 years in prison. Two Panamanians have also been charged and, if convicted, could face up to 30 years in prison.