ICE Adds Venezuelans To Most Wanted List

Tareck El Aissami, Former vice president, and businessman Samark Lopez Bello wanted for international narcotics trafficking, money laundering

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) has added Venezuelan Minister of Industry and National Production, Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah, to their Most Wanted list. The minister was formerly Vice President of Venezuela.

Also added to the Most Wanted list was a co-conspirator, Venezuelan businessman Samark Jose Lopez Bello.

The men were listed for international narcotics trafficking and money laundering. The ICE HSI New York office designated the two men as narcotics traffickers. The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on both in 2017, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York filed criminal charges on March 8 this year in Manhattan federal court.

ICE is the government agency that many Democrats want to shut down.

venezuelan traffickers added to most wanted list
Venezuelan traffickers

The Wanted Men

El Aissami was Venezuela’s minister of interior and justice starting in 2008. From 2012 to 2017, he was governor of Aragua state, and he was appointed executive vice president of Venezuela in January 2017.

Lopez Bello is a 45-year-old Venezuelan businessman. He was the subject of a months-long manhunt following the takedown of a complex international sanctions-evasion and money-laundering operation.

Lopez provided material assistance and financial support that allowed El Aissami to facilitate shipments of narcotics from Venezuela. Planes with narcotics left a Venezuelan airbase, and they routed drugs through Venezuelan ports.

In previous times, El Aissami oversaw or partially owned multiple narcotics shipments of more than 1,000 kilograms. Those shipments left Venezuela destined for Mexico and the United States.

Over more than two years, Lopez and others defrauded the U.S. government. Their narcotics transactions were prohibited by the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act and related regulations. They also evaded sanctions imposed by the OFAC under the Kingpin Act and its related regulations.

The Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act and related regulations prohibit narcotics transactions, and The Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed sanctions on traffickers.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is a financial intelligence and enforcement agency of the U.S. Treasury Department.

After an HSI New York El Dorado Financial Crimes Task Force (El Dorado) investigation, OFAC labeled Tareck El Aissami and Samark Lopez Bello as specially designated narcotics traffickers under the Kingpin Act because they played a significant role in international narcotics trafficking.

About OFEC Designation

An ICE news release states that “As a result of OFAC’s designations, U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with or providing services to El Aissami and Lopez Bello absent authorization from OFAC. El Aissami and Lopez Bello nevertheless worked with, among others, U.S. citizens and U.S. holders, to violate and evade OFAC’s sanctions by obtaining travel services, including private jet charters for El Aissami, Lopez Bello, and their relatives and associates. El Aissami and Lopez Bello often paid for these services through intermediaries who delivered bulk cash in Venezuela for subsequent laundering to and/or within the U.S. Certain flights are alleged to have been in connection with El Aissami’s official duties, notably trips to Turkey and Russia at and/or near the time when media reporting provided his presence in those countries to be in furtherance of aid packages to the Nicolas Maduro regime.”

El Dorado investigators targeting El Aissami and Bello traced financial payments and remittances from Venezuela and around the world. US agencies investigate and prosecute individuals who knowingly aid and conspire with corrupt regimes engaged in human rights violations and criminal activities. These investigations target corrupt politicians, oligarchs, and politically-exposed persons who travel and do illegal business.

As explained by Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, international sanctions are meant to limit the activities of individuals and countries deemed to have policies and practices incompatible with the U.S. from receiving the full benefit of economic, political, humanitarian, and other support the U.S. provides globally.

Explaining the importance of the Kingpin Act, Peter C. Fitzhugh, special agent in charge of HSI New York, said, “Imposing sanctions against foreign persons like El Aissami and Lopez Bello are necessary, as they sought to gain power and control by circumventing the law. The indictments reflect HSI New York El Dorado Task Force’s steadfast commitment to holding those willing to violate such sanctions accountable. Law enforcement around the world knows that they are wanted for these criminal charges; and it is only a matter of time before El Aissami and Lopez Bello are arrested, extradited, and prosecuted right here in New York.”

Most Wanted List

There are 8 others in the ICE Most Wanted list. Two of those have been captured.

About HSI New York’s El Dorado Financial Crimes Task Force

El Dorado is the premier financial enforcement and investigative task force in the world, responsible for detecting, disrupting and dismantling transnational criminal financial networks by preventing their access to U.S. financial systems and stemming the flow of their illicit funds through indictments, arrests, and seizures.

About ICE Homeland Security Investigations

ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is a critical investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security and a vital U.S. asset in combating criminal organizations illegally exploiting America’s travel, trade, financial and immigration systems.

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