On March 26, 2020, US Attorney General William Barr announced that Nicolás Maduro Moros, the former president of Venezuela, along with 14 other former and current Venezuelan officials were charged with narco-terrorism, drug trafficking, and firearms offences among other charges. The charges were brought as the result of a cooperative effort between the US Department of Justice, the US Drug Enforcement Administration, and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations offices across the country.
According to Barr, Maduro and his accomplices usurped portions of the Venezuelan government while acting as leaders of the Cartel de Los Soles or “Cartel of the Suns.” The Cartel leaders are accused of corrupting Venezuela’s governmental institutions by using the country’s military, intelligence, legislature and judiciary for their own personal gain and power while conspiring with drug traffickers and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) to “flood” the US with cocaine. They used cocaine as a weapon in an attempt to devastate American communities, according to Barr. The alleged partnership between the Cartel de Los Soles and FARC began as far back as 1999 when the Cartel allowed FARC leaders to relocate segments of FARC operations to Venezuela while offering them Cartel protection. Since then, both groups are accused of working together to transport cocaine produced by FARC from Venezuela to the US through various points in the Caribbean and Central America. The US Department of State estimates that by 2004, 250 tons of cocaine were transported out of Venezuela each year. Florida, in particular, has been especially affected by the Cartel. According to US Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan of the Southern District of Florida, for the last decade Venezuelan officials have often used South Florida’s banks and real estate to conceal illegal activities involving corruption and money laundering resulting in seizures of approximately $450 million in just the last two years.
The charges against Maduro and his team were brought in multiple jurisdictions across the US. In the Southern District of New York, a four-count superseding indictment was unsealed that charges Maduro Moros and five accomplices with narco-terrorism, drug trafficking, and weapons charges. The SDNY also charged three Venezuelan officials with attempting to evade sanctions imposed by the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. In the US District Court for the District of Columbia, an indictment was unsealed charging a Venezuelan official with distribution of cocaine onboard a US registered aircraft. In the Southern District of Florida, a Venezuelan official was charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering in connection with bribes intended to influence dozens of civil and criminal cases in Venezuela. In the Eastern District of New York, three officials were charged with participation in an international cocaine distribution conspiracy. Additional charges were brought in the Southern District of Texas, including a 20-count indictment alleging money laundering, bribery, and other crimes. In the District of Arizona, one official was charged with violations of the Arms Export Control Act.
If Maduro and his accomplices are convicted, they face the possibility of life in prison. The US State Department is offering up to $15 million, through its Narcotics Rewards Program, for information leading to the arrest of Maduro, and up to $10 million for information leading to the arrest of several of his accomplices.