The U.S. has charged Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro and other senior officials in the country with “narco-terrorism,” and alleged Maduro used cryptocurrency to conceal transactions related to an illicit drug ring.
According to an indictment, the U.S. accused Maduro of flooding the country with cocaine and of using drugs as a weapon to undermine the health of Americans. The charges were announced by Attorney General William Barr and are seen as a further escalation of tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela.
The U.S. also charged 14 other Venezuelan officials, including the country’s defense minister and the supreme court’s chief, over an alleged multibillion-dollar cocaine trafficking ring. The ring was, per Barr, run alongside the Colombian Farc revel group.
The Attorney General claimed the Colombian rebels had “obtained the support of the Maduro regime,” which was allowing them to use Venezuela “as a safe haven from which they can continue to conduct their cocaine trafficking.
A reward of $15 million for information leading to the arrest and convictions of the Venezuelan President is now being offered, per the BBC:
Responding to the charges, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza claimed these were “unfounded allegations” and that they showed the “desperation” of the country. Maduro, on the other hand, accused the U.S. and Colombia of conspiring against Venezuela.
In a press release accompanying the indictment, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Acting Executive Associate Director Alysa D. Erichs said the drug ring used cryptocurrencies to cloak the alleged crimes:
Today’s announcement highlights HSI’s global reach and commitment to aggressively identify, target and investigate individuals who violate U.S. laws, exploit financial systems and hide behind cryptocurrency to further their illicit criminal activity.
Erichs added that the indictment should serve as a reminder “that no one is above the law – not even powerful political officials.” The indictment notably doesn’t mention which cryptocurrencies were being used, but Venezuela has notably launched an oil-backed cryptocurrency, called the Petro, which Maduro claims is widely used0
Venezuelan merchants have, on the other hand, called the oil-backed cryptocurrency a scam that doesn’t help them deal with Venezuela’s hyperinflation. According to Bloomberg’s Café Con Leche Index, the annual inflation rate in Venezuela for the last three months was of 12,246%.