Thursday morning the Trump Administration charged the President of Venezuela and top regime officials with corruption and narco-terrorism against the U.S. And a large part of the federal indictments were focused on South Florida.
U.S. prosecutors in New York charged Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro with helping traffic cocaine to the U.S. - and aiding the Venezuelan military's alliance with Colombia's Marxist guerrillas, the FARC, whom the U.S. has designated a terrorist group. The feds in Washington D.C. charged Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino with much the same crimes. And Supreme Court Chief Justice Maikel Moreno was charged in Miami with epic corruption and lavish money laundering.
On a video hookup with Attorney General William Barr, Ariana Fajardo Orshan, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, said corrupt Venezuelan leaders like Moreno have for too long used South Florida to stow their dirty cash.
“Whether it is million-dollar condos, very fancy yachts or private jets – all of this has become a part of our society in southern Florida," Fajardo Orshan said. "This party is coming to an end.”
Fajardo Orshan said Moreno used his Supreme Court power to authorize the Maduro regime’s seizure of a GM auto plant in Venezuela - and that he received millions of dollars in bribes for such actions, much of it spent in South Florida on things like private pilots and luxury Prada goods in Bal Harbor.
Fajardo Orshan added that more than a dozen Venezuelan officials like Moreno have been targeted here.
“We have seized over $450 million from defendants in connection to these cases," she said.
Venezuela is suffering the worst economic collapse in the world today, and its authoritarian socialist regime’s corruption is widely blamed for it. Maduro, Moreno and the other officials indicted – including the powerful Constituent Assembly leader Diosdado Cabello – all deny the U.S. accusations, calling them part of a plot to mount a coup d'etat in Venezuela.
The U.S. is offering a $15 million reward for help in capturing Maduro and $10 million for Cabello, a former military leader who is thought to have led the alleged Venezuelan military drug cartel known as the Cartel of the Suns.
The Trump Administration no longer recognizes Maduro as Venezuela's legitimate president - it recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaidó instead - and Barr insisted the U.S. is not indicting a foreign head of state. (Nor, he added, did the U.S. recognize then Panamanian dictator Gen. Manuel Noriega three decades ago when it indicted and ultimately arrested him on drug charges after a military invasion of Panama.)
Asked if it was right to issue such serious charges against Maduro and top government officials during the coronavirus pandemic, which promises to deepen Venezuela's humanitarian crisis, Barr insisted "this is good timing" if it helps hasten the change of government most Venezuelans desperately want.