Washington has reportedly launched a probe into alleged high-level drug trafficking in Venezuela. National assembly president Diosdado Cabello is allegedly a leading target of the investigation.
United States prosecutors have launched an investigation into Venezuela's parliamentary chief, Diosdado Cabello, and other senior officials for possible cocaine trafficking and money laundering, the "Wall Street Journal" reported Monday.
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigators and federal prosecutors were building a case based on evidence provided by former cocaine traffickers, ex-military members and informants with close ties to high-level Venezuelan officials.
Cabello is regarded as the second most powerful man in the South American nation, after President Nicolas Maduro. According to the report, Maduro himself is not a target of the investigation.
"There is extensive evidence to justify that [Cabello] is one of the heads, if not the head of the cartel," an unidentified Justice Department official was quoted as saying. "He certainly is a main target."
In recent years, opposition leaders and US officials have leveled charges of money laundering and drug trafficking against the governments of Maduro and that of his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.
Venezuelan authorities have previously dismissed the accusations as smears that are part of a wider US campaign to end 16 years of socialism in the country.
'Explosion' of drug trafficking
In January, Spanish newspaper "ABC" reported that one of Cabello's security guards had fled Venezuela and informed US authorities he was involved in a drug ring.
"They accuse me of being a drug trafficker without a single piece of evidence and now I'm the bad guy," Cabello was quoted as telling state media last week.
"I feel offended, and none of them even said they're sorry," he said.
The report said that Venezuela had experienced an "explosion" of drug trafficking after Colombian drug cartels transferred their operations there following a US-funded government crackdown in Colombia.
bw/cmk (Reuters, AFP)