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Venezuelan Industry Minister Lands On U.S. Most Wanted List

Tareck El Aissami, the industry minister of Venezuela and a close ally of Nicolas Maduro, ended up on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s most wanted list this week for international drug trafficking.  

El Aissami, who is also former Vice President of Venezuela, appeared on ICE’s #MostWantedWednesday campaign on social media for playing a significant role in international narcotics trafficking, the agency said on its ICE Most Wanted post.

Two years ago, in February 2017, the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated El Aissami as a specially designated narcotics trafficker (SDNT) pursuant to the Kingpin Act.

According to ICE, El Aissami allegedly facilitated drug trafficking out of Venezuela.  

“In his previous positions, he oversaw or partially owned narcotics shipments of more than 1,000 kilograms from Venezuela on multiple occasions, including those with the final destinations of Mexico and the United States,” the agency says.

In March this year, the U.S. Department of Justice said that El Aissami and a businessman close to him, Samark Jose Lopez Bello, were charged in Manhattan federal court with criminal violations of the Kingpin Act and sanctions imposed in February 2017 by the U.S. Treasury pursuant to the Kingpin Act. 

Retweeting ICE’s most wanted post, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said: “Maduro and his remaining cronies should take the offer of an exit before the door closes.”

Reacting to ICE’s most wanted campaign, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said that his country “rejects the U.S. Govt’s obsessive harassment against Vzla democratic institutions, discrediting its authorities,” and reiterated full support to El Aissami. 

Meanwhile, the sweeping U.S. sanctions against Venezuela’s oil industry, Maduro, and his associates are further complicating oil production at the country sitting on the world’s largest oil reserves.

Last month, IHS Markit warned that Venezuela could be pumping as little as below 500,000 bpd of crude oil next year amid the economic and political crisis. According to OPEC’s secondary sources—the ones the cartel considers the official production figures—Venezuela’s crude oil production in June dropped by 16,000 bpd from May to stand at 734,000 bpd. To compare, Venezuela’s crude oil production in 2017 averaged 1.911 million bpd.

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By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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