Venezuela’s Former Vice President Charged in U.S. With Evading Sanctions

(Bloomberg) -- Venezuela’s Minister of Industry and National Production was charged with violating a U.S. law targeting foreign drug traffickers with sanctions by using private jets supplied by American companies.

Prosecutors claim Tareck Zaidan el Aissami Maddah and his business partner, Samark Lopez Bello, broke the law by taking the flights, including one on Feb. 23 from Russia to Venezuela. El Aissami, Venezuela’s former vice president, and Lopez Bello aren’t in U.S. custody.

The charges come amid tense relations between the U.S. and Venezuela, with the Trump administration backing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido’s bid to unseat President Nicolas Maduro. Millions in Venezuela were plunged into darkness this week, with the Maduro camp claiming Washington was sabotaging its electrical grid. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded on Twitter, saying the crisis was a prelude to regime change.

El Aissami and Lopez Bello were targeted in February 2017 with sanctions under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, according to charges made public Friday. The sanctions prohibited U.S. residents from providing services or engaging in transactions with the two men.

Two U.S. citizens, Victor Mones Caro and Alejandro Miguel Leon Maal, used U.S. companies to provide the Venezuelans with charter flights, allowing them to travel from their home country to Russia, Turkey and the Dominican Republic, according to prosecutors.

The four men are each charged with five counts, each of which carries a maximum of 30 years in prison. Two other men, Michols Orsini Quintero, who lives in Florida, and Alejandro Antonio Quintavalle Yrady of Panama, were each charged with a single count of conspiracy, which also carries a maximum of 30 years in prison.

Mones Coro and Orsini Quintero were both arrested Friday morning in Florida.

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