Ex-Venezuelan vice president accused of aiding drug dealers

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NEW YORK – Former Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami has been criminally charged in New York federal court, accused of using his office to aid international drug traffickers.

El Aissami and a Venezuelan businessman, Samark Jose Lopez Bello, were charged Friday with violating the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act and U.S. Treasury Department sanctions.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman says El Aissami, now Venezuela’s minister of industry and national production, hired U.S. companies to provide private jets in violation of sanctions.

Angel Melendez, who heads New York’s U.S. immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, says El Aissami and Lopez Bello are now wanted in New York.

He says the men used private jets as they arranged private meetings around the globe including in Turkey and Russia.

Venezuela’s government had no immediate comment.