The U.S. Treasury Department, under the Trump administration, has put Venezuela’s Vice President Tareck El Aissami on a sanctions list for allegedly aiding drug traffickers and Middle Eastern terrorists, according to the Wall Street Journal.
El Aissami has consistently denied all allegations, accusing the U.S. of media slander and even saying he would turn himself in if anyone had any proof of wrongdoing.
The move by the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control put the official on the Specially Designated Nationals list, freezing any of El Aissami’s assets in the U.S. and prohibiting U.S. citizens from having any dealings with the vice president.
The vice president was placed on the Kingpin Act Designation, which is narcotics-related, making him the highest-ranking Venezuelan official to be sanctioned by the U.S.
The U.S. has been investigating the Venezuelan officials on alleged drug-trafficking and money-laundering charges for years, but the current announcement was posted on the Treasury Department's website today.
El Aissami was just appointed by President Nicolas Maduro on Jan. 4; the son of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants, El Aissami was a student leader before assuming the post of minister of interior and justice in 2008 and then winning the governorship of Aragua state in 2012.
On Jan. 14, the U.S. renewed the "national emergency" declaration against Venezuela because of the alleged "unusual and extraordinary threat" that the South American country poses for the security of the U.S., part of an executive order issued by former President Barack Obama in March 2015.
Venezuela and the U.S. have knocked heads since 1998 when the late President Hugo Chavez took an anti-imperialist path and began to distant the country from U.S. control.
The sanctions come on the heels of a letter by a bipartisan group of 34 U.S. lawmakers urging President Donald Trump to apply new sanctions against Venezuela’s government on Feb. 8, alleging that it supports corruption, human rights abuses, and "terrorism."
Cuban-American right-wing congresspeople Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, co-authored the letter, which called on Trump to investigate alleged drug trafficking and support for so-called Middle Eastern terror groups by El Aissami.
In addition to sanctioning Venezuelan officials and launching an investigation into the Bolivarian government’s alleged ties to terrorism, the U.S. lawmakers sought to boost funding for right-wing opposition groups operating within the country, which have been the recipients of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars for almost 20 years.