Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday received Venezuela’s vice-president, Tareck El Aissami, the highest-ranking Venezuelan official to be sanctioned by the United States for a major role in international drug trafficking.
El Aissami’s visit to Ankara comes amid growing contacts between the Turkish and Venezuelan governments, as both President Nicolás Maduro and his Turkish counterpart have increasingly aligned with each other in a US bashing frenzy and vowed to coordinate their actions against the United States, which they both call an imperialist country.
In a February 2007 statement the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated El Aissami Maddah as a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act) for playing a significant role in international narcotics trafficking.
El Aissami’s primary frontman, Venezuelan national Samark Jose Lopez Bello, was also designated for providing material assistance, financial support or goods or services in support of the international narcotics trafficking activities of, and acting for or on behalf of, El Aissami, the statement said. It also added that OFAC designated or identified as blocked the property 13 companies owned or controlled by Lopez Bello or other designated parties that comprise an international network spanning the British Virgin Islands, Panama, the United Kingdom, the United States and Venezuela.
Appointed executive vice president in January 2017, El Aissami previously served as governor of Venezuela’s Aragua state from 2012 to 2017 as well as Venezuela’s minister of interior and justice starting in 2008. “He facilitated shipments of narcotics from Venezuela, to include control over planes that leave from a Venezuelan air base, as well as control of drug routes through the ports in Venezuela. In his previous positions, he oversaw or partially owned narcotics shipments of over 1,000 kilograms from Venezuela on multiple occasions, including those with the final destinations of Mexico and the United States,” the US Treasury said.
The Treasury added that “he also facilitated, coordinated, and protected other narcotics traffickers operating in Venezuela. Specifically, El Aissami received payment for the facilitation of drug shipments belonging to Venezuelan drug kingpin Walid Makled Garcia.”
El Aissami also is linked to coordinating drug shipments to Los Zetas, a violent Mexican drug cartel, as well as providing protection to Colombian drug lord Daniel Barrera Barrera and Venezuelan drug trafficker Hermagoras Gonzalez Polanco, according to the US, which previously named Los Zetas, Daniel Barrera Barrera and Hermagoras Gonzalez Polanco as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers.
He was also linked to the Venezuelan intelligence service and was reportedly involved in a passport scheme in which fraudulent Venezuelan passports ended up in the hands of people from the Middle East, including alleged members of Hezbollah.
Turkey and Venezuela have increased economic cooperation in recent years with a flurry of exchanges on both sides. Turkey started refining and certifying Venezuelan gold after Venezuela moved its operation from Switzerland over sanctions concerns.