The US Department of Justice indicted Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday, charging him with narco terrorism and putting a $15 million bounty on his arrest.
The charges were announced by the Department of Justice in an unprecedented move against a foreign leader.
In the announcement, Justice Department officials called Mr Maudro “a leader of a cartel” and accused him of alleged conspiracy to send cocaine to the United States by running a drug trafficking network and engaging in money laundering.
US attorney general William Barr said “today’s announcement is focused on rooting out the extensive corruption within the Venezuelan government – a system constructed and controlled to enrich those at the highest levels of the government. The United States will not allow these corrupt Venezuelan officials to use the US banking system to move their illicit proceeds from South America, nor further their criminal schemes.”
The US also accused Venezuela of allowing Colombians with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, "FARC," to use its airspace to fly cocaine into the United States.
According to the Washington Post, Mr Maduro rejected the indictment calling it a conspiracy from the US and Colombia. "There's a conspiracy from the United States and Colombia and they've given the order of filling Venezuela with violence."
“As head of state I’m obliged to defend peace and stability for all the motherland, under any circumstances,” he reportedly tweeted.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the move is “to bring former Maduro regime officials responsible for international narcotics trafficking to justice.”
The State Department is also offering rewards of $10 million for information related to others indicted alongside Mr Maduro from his inner circle, including Diosdado Cabello Rondon, Hugo Carvajal Barrios, Cliver Alcala Cordones, and Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah.
It accused them of facilitating shipments of narcotics from Venezuela, including control over planes that leave from a Venezuelan air base, as well as control of drug routes through the ports in Venezuela.
The move only hardens the standoff between Mr Maduro and the United States. But in an election year, it could also help US President Donald Trump in the swing state of Florida, where lot of Venezuelans expatriates oppose the Maduro regime.
The US has already put biting sanctions on Venezuela and recognised – along with 100 nations – Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guaido as the Interim President of Venezuela. The country’s oil exports plummeted 32 percent in 2019, but Mr Maduro still holds power and enjoys support from Russia and Iran.