Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Good morning. Today, I am here to talk about the former Maduro regime and its direct participation in narco-terrorism, corruption, money laundering, and drug trafficking. Joining me today is the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoff Berman; the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Ariana Fajardo; the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Brian Benczkowski, and; DEA Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon.
As you will hear, the Department of Justice is announcing the unsealing of a superseding indictment filed in the Southern District of New York against four defendants, including Nicolás Maduro, as well as the current head of Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly, the former Director of Military Intelligence, and a former high-ranking general for their involvement in narco-terrorism.
In addition, a recent superseding indictment charges two high-ranking regime leaders with corruption. Further, the Southern District of Florida unsealed charges this morning against the Chief Justice of the Venezuelan Supreme Court, involving money laundering. Additionally, the Criminal Division unsealed an indictment charging the Minister of Defense for his involvement in drug trafficking. These charges are in addition to charges the department has previously filed in the Eastern District of New York, the Southern District of Texas, and the District of Arizona against former members of the Maduro regime, totaling 15 defendants. Of these cases, 12 are DEA-led investigations; three are HSI-led investigations.
The indictment of Nicolás Maduro and his co-defendants alleges a conspiracy involving an extremely violent terrorist organization known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – or FARC – in an effort to flood the United States with cocaine. Now, FARC has been operating in Colombia. In 2017, the Colombians entered into a peace agreement with FARC, under which the overwhelming majority of FARC members laid down their arms and have been living within the political structure of Columbia. However, there is a dissident group of about 2,500 FARC members, and they have taken up on the border between Venezuela and Colombia. These FARC dissidents continue to be involved in drug trafficking and armed insurgency. They have obtained the support of the Maduro regime, which is allowing them to use Venezuela as a safe haven from which they can continue to conduct their cocaine trafficking and their armed insurgency.
There is an area right on the border in Colombia, Norte de Santander, which is one of the primary cocaine producing areas remaining in Colombia. FARC gets this cocaine over into Venezuela and then is given safe haven by the regime to fly this cocaine from an area called Zulia, near Lake Maracaibo, up into Central America. Since 2016, this air bridge has been established and has grown fivefold in just those four years. In addition, the regime is allowing these drug traffickers to take drugs by a maritime route into the Caribbean. We estimate that somewhere between 200 and 250 metric tons of cocaine are shipped out of Venezuela by these routes per year. Those 250 tons equate to 30 million lethal doses.
The U.S. Attorneys from the Southern District of New York and the Southern District of Florida, as well as the Assistant Attorney General for the department’s Criminal Division, will now describe some of the indictments in more detail, but I wanted to give you a sense of just how deeply the institutions of the former Venezuelan government are infected by criminality and corruption. You will hear that the people profiting from this corruption are high-ranking members of this former regime, and you will see how this involves all branches of government: executive, judicial, and military. With that, I will turn it over to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoff Berman.
Remarks at the end of the press conference
Again, I want to thank all of the agents and all of the prosecutors who have worked on these cases over the years. As U.S. Attorney Berman mentioned, this work goes back in the Southern District of New York for over a decade, so it is greatly appreciated. To all the work at the DEA, HSI, and our sister agency, the Department of Homeland Security, thank you.
As alleged, the Maduro regime is awash in corruption and criminality. Maduro and the other defendants have betrayed the Venezuelan people and corrupted Venezuela’s institutions. While the Venezuelan people suffer, this cabal lines their pockets with drug money and the proceeds of their corruption. This has to come to an end.