The Trump administration slapped sanctions on Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami on Monday, accusing him of playing a major role in international drug trafficking.
The announcement was made on the Treasury Department's website late in the day.
El Aissami has been the target of U.S. law enforcement for years over his alleged ties to Venezuela's largest convicted drug trafficker and a Middle Eastern militant group.
The Treasury Department said El Aissami oversaw or partially owned narcotics shipments of more than 1,000 kilograms from Venezuela on multiple occasions, including shipments to Mexico and the United States.
"El Aissami facilitated shipments of narcotics from Venezuela, to include control over planes that leave from a Venezuelan airbase, as well as control of drug routes through the ports of Venezuela," a senior U.S. administration official told reporters.
A former Minister of Interior and Justice, U.S. authorities have had their eyes on El Aissami for some time. He is a hardline follower of Venezuela's deceased socialist president Hugo Chavez, and was linked to clandestine armed organizations as a forebrand student leader.
Of Syrian descent, his father headed the Venezuelan branch of the Iraqi Baath Party, while his great-uncle Shibli el-Aissami was a leading ideologue and assistant secretary-general of the Baath Party in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein.
As part of the action, El Aissami's U.S. assets were frozen and he'll be barred from entering the United States. A U.S. official estimated the value of property blocked in Miami was worth "tens of millions of dollars."
The U.S. government is also sanctioning Samark Lopez Bello, a wealthy Venezuelan businessman believed to be El Aissami's main front man.
There was no immediate reaction from El Aissami, but he has long denied any criminal ties.
The action is likely to further antagonize the United States' already tense relations with Venezuela, its harshest critic in Latin America.
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