A voter stands at a booth inside a polling station during presidential elections in Caracas, Venezuela. (Photographer: Wil Riera/Bloomberg)

U.S. Adds to Venezuela Pressure With Sanctions Days Before Vote

(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration renewed its efforts to pressure the government of President Nicolas Maduro by sanctioning former National Assembly Speaker Diosdado Cabello Rondon and three other Venezuelans, accusing them of involvement in drug trafficking, money laundering, and embezzlement.

U.S. Adds to Venezuela Pressure With Sanctions Days Before Vote

The action against Cabello, second-in-command of the ruling United Socialist party, comes just ahead of elections scheduled for Sunday. A notice posted on a U.S. Treasury website also names Jose David Cabello Rondon, his brother and the head of Venezuela’s tax collection agency; Marleny Josefina Contreras Hernandez, his wife and Venezuela’s minister of tourism; and Rafael Alfredo Sarria Diaz, described in a Treasury statement as Cabello’s “front man.”

The sanctions order also designates three companies -- 11420 Corp, Noor Plantation Investments LLC and SAI Advisors Inc, described in a Treasury statement as Florida companies owned or controlled by Sarria -- according to the Treasury Department website.

“The Venezuelan people suffer under corrupt politicians who tighten their grip on power while lining their own pockets,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a written statement. “We are imposing costs on figures like Diosdado Cabello who exploit their official positions to engage in narcotics trafficking, money laundering, embezzlement of state funds, and other corrupt activities.”

Diosdado Cabello, 55, a former army lieutenant, was a close confidant of the late Hugo Chavez and has held a number of top-cabinet posts including vice president, minister of public works, and head of the National Assembly.

The Wall Street Journal published a sprawling investigation in 2015 that alleged that Cabello, along with his brother, Jose David were being investigated by U.S. prosecutors for leading a drug trafficking and money laundering ring with other top military and government officials. Cabello has since denied the accusations and unsuccessfully sued The Journal for defamatation.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence urged Venezuela to suspend the presidential elections scheduled for May 20 while addressing the Organization of Americas States this month.

The sanctions may increase pressure on Maduro ahead of the elections, as the South American nation deals with hyperinflation, food shortages and declining oil production. Maduro is widely unpopular, but most opposition parties have refused to participate in what they say will be a rigged vote.

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