U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a fugitive alert notice on Wednesday for Venezuelan Minister of Industries and National Production Tareck El Aissami, the man in charge of the vital Venezuelan industries like oil and gold, on charges of narcotics trafficking.
In addition to his post as industries minister, El Aissami is on the board of directors and holds the title of “External Director” of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), the state-run oil company.
ICE announced that it had added El Aissami to its “most wanted” list on Twitter, under the hashtag #MostWantedWednesday, which the agency’s account uses weekly. “Have you seen this most wanted fugitive?” it asked of the senior official, who appears on national television in Venezuela regularly.
— ICE (@ICEgov) July 31, 2019
Prior to running Venezuela’s most vital industries, El Aissami served as the nation’s executive vice president. Like most of socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro’s inner circle, El Aissami has rotated across various jobs in the administration since being elevated from the post of governor of Aragua state in 2017. He is one of Maduro’s most prominent and trusted loyalists.
“He facilitated shipments of narcotics from Venezuela, to include control over planes that left from a Venezuelan air base and drug routes through the ports in Venezuela,” ICE stated in its “most wanted” profile of El Aissami. “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.”
ICE urged Americans not to personally attempt to apprehend individuals the U.S. government seeks.
El Aissami responded by posting a video to Twitter in front of a large waterfall at the Simón Bolívar Hydroelectric Center in southern Venezuela, urging socialists to emulate the waterfall and remain steadfast in the face of “imperialism’s dirty tricks.”
“Today we once again receive knowledge of this odious attempted aggression,” El Aissami says in the video, barely audible through the roar of the waterfall. “We are unstoppable, unbreakable, loyal to our history, loyal to our beloved commander Hugo Chávez.”
“Accuse me of whatever you want,” he concludes. “We will keep constructing Bolívar’s dream.”
Somos los hijos de BOLÍVAR y de CHÁVEZ!! No podrán con nuestra fuerza MORAL!! LEALES siempre!! Nosotros VENCEREMOS!! pic.twitter.com/Rw6d7gzDM8
— Tareck El Aissami (@TareckPSUV) July 31, 2019
Socialist regime Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, Hugo Chávez’s son-in-law, issued an official regime statement in support of El Aissami, accusing America of “obsessive harassment” against the industries minister and “against Venezuelan institutions and authorities.”
“In rejecting this grave accusation and not accepting any American government authority to make it, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela reiterates its solidary and support to comrade Tareck El Aissami,” the foreign ministry statement concluded, “and announces it will denounce this and other criminal actions made by the war administration of the United States and its lackeys before the appropriate international agencies.”
The U.S. Department of the Treasury initially sanctioned El Aissami and “primary frontman,” Samark López Bello, in February 2017 under the “Drug Kingpin Act” for “playing a significant role in international narcotics trafficking.”
“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,” the Treasury stated at the time of El Aissami. “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 Treasury accused El Aissami not only of working with Venezuelan drug traffickers but of “coordinating drug shipments to Los Zetas, a violent Mexican drug cartel.”
The Department of Justice formally charged El Aissami with drug trafficking and evading the Treasury sanctions in March.
El Aissami “has used his position of power to engage in international drug trafficking … [and] allegedly used private jets to set up private meetings around the globe including Turkey and Russia,” Angel M. Melendez, the Special Agent in Charge of the case, said at the time.
El Aissami faces up to 30 years in prison.
López Bello faces the same charges for working on behalf of El Aissami and is also on ICE’s “most wanted” list.
In addition to linking the Venezuelan dictatorship to Los Zetas and other criminal syndicates, El Aissami is widely believed to be a recruiter and financier for Hezbollah, the Shiite terrorist proxy organization run by Iran.
“Tareck El Aissami is one of Hezbollah’s great bagmen, a sort of huge funder, and the money goes through the networks, and then, as you say, that money comes back through investments,” Dr. Vanessa Neumann, a terrorism expert, told Breitbart News in 2018. With Maduro, a professional bus driver, largely incapable of running the country, many believe that El Aissami is making many of the regime’s major decisions – and keeping the interests of Hezbollah in mind.
Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL) warned last year that the succession of El Aissami to the top of the Bolivarian regime could result in the creation of “an Islamic state in Venezuela, right here in our hemisphere.”