In light of recent allegations against Venezuela’s second-in-command made by a defector to the United States, InSight Crime profiles the most prominent former and current Venezuelan government officials either indicted or accused of criminal activity.
Just weeks after a former Venezuelan presidential security chief accused the head of the National Assembly of running the country’s most powerful drug trafficking network, President Nicolas Maduro’s administration has allegedly blocked government officials from travelling to the United States.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, Venezuelan government officials told El Nuevo Herald the prohibition primarily applies to high-ranking military officials, while employees of the country’s state-owned oil company (PDVSA) now have to get special permission to travel.
The measure may prove redundant in some cases, since the United States recently expanded its list of Venezuelan government officials with visa bans due to alleged human rights abuses and corruption. Meanwhile, one group of Venezuelan exiles based in Miami recently called on the US government to label Venezuela as a narco-state.
The following is a list of some of the Venezuelan government officials who have been charged or accused of criminal activity in recent years.
Carvajal was Venezuela’s Director of Military Intelligence when the US Treasury Department designated him to its narcotics “Kingpin” list in 2008 for aiding the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas with drug trafficking operations. Carvajal reportedly protected drug shipments from being seized by Venezuelan authorities and supplied the rebel army with weapons. In May 2013, the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Florida indicted Carvajal on conspiracy to traffic cocaine with the intent that it would illegally enter the United States.
In July 2014, Carvajal was arrested in Aruba at the request of US authorities, but was freed four days later because of his diplomatic immunity (pdf). Carvajal — who went to the island nation in order to serve as Venezuela’s consul general — was the “highest-ranking Venezuelan official to be arrested on a US warrant,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
In January 2015, the former head of Cabello’s security detail accused the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly of being heavily involved in drug trafficking. The former security boss, Leamsy Salazar, left for the United States in January as part of an investigation by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) into Venezuelan officials with alleged connections to drug trafficking. Salazar has reportedly stated that Cabello is the head of the Cartel of the Suns, a drug trafficking group comprised of elements of the country’s military.
President Maduro has since expressed his support for Cabello and has reportedly called the accusation an attempt to tarnish the reputation of the Venezuelan government.
Bernal was a congressman with the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) when he was added to the US Treasury’s Kingpin list in 2011. The US accused Bernal — a Chavez loyalist — of facilitating weapons transfers between the Venezuelan government and the FARC. In addition to Bernal, three other government and military officials were put on the list because of their material support of the FARC.
Ironically, Bernal is currently the head of Venezuela’s police reform commission, established in 2014 by President Maduro in order to investigate cases of corruption involving the police.
Henry de Jesus Rangel Silva and Ramon Rodriguez Chacin
Rangel Silva and Rodriguez Chacin are two current governors who were also included on the Treasury’s Kingpin designation from 2008, alongside Carvajal.
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Rangel Silva (pictured below), who was in charge of Venezuela’s intelligence agency at the time, allegedly promoted greater collaboration between the FARC and the government of former President Hugo Chavez. Rangel Silva is now governor of the western state of Trujillo.
Rodriguez Chacin (pictured below) is a former Minister of Interior and Justice who reportedly served as the primary liaison for weapons sales between the government and the FARC. Rodriguez Chacin is currently the governor of Guarico state in central Venezuela.
Al-Din had recently left his post as a Venezuelan diplomat in Syria when the US Treasury designated him for providing financial support to the Islamist militant group Hezbollah in 2008. In addition to offering fundraising advice to Hezbollah donors, al-Din reportedly met with senior officials from the militant group in Lebanon.
In late January 2015, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) placed al-Din on the agency’s terrorism list for his alleged fundraising role.
Vassyly Kotosky Villarroel Ramirez
The Treasury put Villarroel Ramirez on its Kingpin list in 2013 for allegedly utilizing airports, seaports, and government vehicles to arrange cocaine shipments bound for Mexico while serving as a captain in the Venezuelan National Guard.
“Villarroel Ramirez is a prime example of a narcotics trafficker who exploited his former military position and connections to facilitate the transport of cocaine to Mexico and profit from the sales that followed,” the head of the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said at the time.
Villarroel Ramirez first ran afoul of the US government in 2011, when the US Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York indicted him on multiple cocaine trafficking charges, according to the Treasury.