Diosdado Cabello Rondón, President (Speaker) of the National Assembly of Venezuela. Photo by the Venezuelan National Assembly.
NEW YORK, May 19 (UPI) -- Several high-ranking Venezuelan politicians are the target of a U.S. drug-trafficking investigation, Justice Dept. officials said.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is investigating the actions of Diosdado Cabello, Venezuela's National assembly speaker and the second-ranking government leader.
Prosecutors in New York and Miami are building cases that allege Cabello and other Venezuelan government leaders have turned their country into a global hub for money laundering and cocaine trafficking, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
"They accuse me of being a drug trafficker without a single piece of evidence and now I'm the bad guy," Cabello said on Venezuelan state television last week. "I feel offended, and none of them even said they're sorry."
U.S. officials said any indictments from the investigation could be sealed until arrests are made. Law enforcement authorities in the United States say many drug traffickers in Colombia have moved their operations to neighboring Venezuela, where the government is not actively battling the drug trade and the government and military are willing to permit cocaine smuggling. Although Venezuela does not grow coca, the crop used in cocaine, the United States says 131 tons of cocaine traveled to market through Venezuela.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who has an adversarial relationship with the United States, has not been targeted, U.S. officials said. Justice Department officials say Cabello is the main target of the investigation.
An economic crisis in Venezuela has made it easier for the United States to recruit informants, and Colombian and Venezuelan drug traffickers have entered the United States eager to offer information in exchange for residency and lighter jail sentences, officials said.
"Since the turmoil in Venezuela, we've had greater success in building these cases," said a federal prosecutor, the Wall Street Journal reported.