US Accuses Venezuela VP of Major Role in International Drug Trafficking

El Aissami's alleged primary frontman, Venezuelan national Samark Jose Lopez Bello, also was designated for providing help to El Aissami, according to a U.S. Treasury Department statement.

El Aissami was allegedly in the pay of Venezuelan drug kingpin Walid Makled Garcia to protect shipments, and coordinated them with Mexico's violent Los Zetas cartel, the Treasury said.

In a January 31 decree, Maduro granted El Aissami expansive new powers to seize property and approve ministers' budgets. "The designation is not aimed at Venezuela or any specific sectors of the Venezuelan economy, but rather is specifically targeted against individuals engaged in narcotics trafficking and the worldwide network of companies that they manage and through which they launder their illicit proceeds", the official said.

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The visits were organised at the request of the refugees, many of whom are Syrians fleeing the civil war in the country. The city's main bus station was shut down, trains in the area were halted and churches cancelled their Sunday services.

A day after the US government slapped sanctions on Venezuela's vice president for being a major drug trafficker, the Socialist administration came out fighting, saying the allegations were a "a grotesque lie" aimed at further destabilizing the struggling country.

With the sanctions, El Aissami's USA -based assets have been frozen and he is forbidden from entering the country.

The Trump administration has yet, however, to release any evidence to bolster the accusations, while the US Justice Department has not publically opened investigations into El Aissami or his alleged associate.

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"Truth is invincible and we will see this vile aggression dispelled".

Their letter referred to El Aissami, noting that his recent appointment as executive vice president put him in line to become Venezuela's next leader. "El Aissami is the most senior Venezuelan official to ever be targeted by the U.S". Republican congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez issued a joint statement Monday calling the step "long overdue", while Republican Senator Marco Rubio said he hoped the sanctions were "only the beginning". "Denying a safe haven for illicit assets in the United States and protecting the USA financial system from abuse remain top priorities of the Treasury Department".

The Venezuelan opposition is looking for greater pressure on Maduro from the new USA government.

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