The United States announced a $15 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Nicolás Maduro on drug-trafficking charges, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on March 26.
Pompeo announced the reward as the Justice Department unveiled charges against Maduro, indicting him and top members of his regime for “narco-terrorism.”
“The Venezuelan people deserve a transparent, responsible, representative government that serves the needs of the people — and that does not betray the trust of the people by condoning or employing public officials that engage in illicit narcotics trafficking,” Pompeo said in a statement.
Attorney General Bill Barr said Maduro was a narco-terrorist and the leader of a cocaine trafficking group called The Cartel of the Suns that involved senior politicians and members of the Venezuelan military and judiciary, including the country’s chief justice.
Other charges include money laundering, weapons trafficking, corruption and a slew of other criminal charges. Barr said the regime — in conjunction with the Colombian narcotrafficking group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish) — has shipped out 200 to 250 tons of cocaine under the protection of the Venezuelan government.
Federal authorities say this illicit operation began in the mid-2000s as a means to help the Colombian rebel group, considered to be a terrorist organization by the United States, while the regime enriched themselves with cocaine-tainted bribes.
“For more than 20 years, Maduro and a number of high-ranking colleagues allegedly conspired with the FARC, causing tons of cocaine to enter and devastate American communities,” Barr said. “Today’s announcement is focused on rooting out the extensive corruption within the regime — a system constructed and controlled to enrich those at the highest levels of power.”
Other members indicted include Diosdado Cabello, head of Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly; Vladimir Padrino, the country’s Defense minister; Hugo Armando Carvajal, the former military intelligence head; and Maikel Moreno, chief justice of Venezuela’s Supreme Court. A $10 million reward has been offered for the arrest of Cabello.
In 2019, Colombian officials alleged that the Maduro regime was also involved with the Colombian leftist guerrilla group National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish). U.S. officials have also said that Venezuela is harboring and working with the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah.
Maduro’s indictment marks the second time that the U.S. government has brought criminal charges against a foreign head of state. The last time was in 1989, when federal prosecutors indicted Panamanian President Manuel Noriega on drug-trafficking charges. U.S. military forces seized him later that year.
The U.S. and a host of other countries and international bodies have recognized Juan Guaidó, the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, as the country’s legitimate leader.