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United States

Venezuelan businessman linked to drugs by Treasury Department got help from top former U.S. official

He had a clean background check, which he used to conduct business in the United States.
24 Feb 2017 – 06:27 PM EST
Samark López describes himself on his website as as philanthropic entrepreneur. Crédito:

Samark López, the Venezuelan businessman identified last week as a suspected drug trafficker by the U.S. Treasury Department, was able to travel around the United States for years thanks to a positive background report prepared by a former director of the Treasury Department office that regulates sanctions, according to Univision sources.

The due diligence report that enabled López to open U.S. bank accounts, do business with Home Depot, and buy luxury real estate properties was prepared by Richard Newcomb, who directed the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for 17 years.

The Treasury Department announced the seizure of assets and bank accounts of López that could add up to $300 million, arguing that the businessman was the "key frontman" for the drug trafficking activities of Venezuela's Vice President, Tareck El Aissami.

López has rejected the accusation and says he will seek to clear his name and clarify the origin of his wealth.

Newcomb, who now works for a major Washington, D.C., lawfirm, DLA Piper, declined to answer Univision's questions about the report prepared by him, or whether he will represent López before OFAC.

Newcomb resigned from OFAC in October 2004 amid criticism that the office was devoting more resources to pursuing violators of the economic embargo on Cuba than evidence of funding of international terrorism.

It was during his time in charge that the so-called "Clinton List" of drug kingpins was created, composed of a register of people and companies designated to have links to drug trafficking, which today includes his client.

When López began business activities in the United States, his advisers advised him to undergo a forensic analysis of his estate and the origin of his fortune, sources told Univision. His profile as a wealthy Venezuelan businessman with close ties to the socialist government of Venezuela would have made him vulnerable to close scrutiny in the U.S. financial industry as a so-called PEP: "politically exposed person."

López hired Newcomb who would have done an exhaustive research of the businessman's finances before issuing a favorable verdict.

Newcomb faces no conflict of interest for having conducted the due diligence report or for his potential representation of López against OFAC, said attorney David Weinstein, a former white-collar crime prosecutor now in private practice with Clarke Silverglate in Miami.

“Many of us do it, going from prosecutor to defense lawyer,’’ said Weinstein who added that it was not unusual that Newcomb failed to turn up suspicious activity in López's past.

While it may not look good, it doesn't take much to get put on the Clinton list, Weinstein said. "They (the government) never tells you exactly what it is that got you on it," he said.

"You could have a cooperating informat who is the source of information, or a federal agent who learns something they believe is supicious and reports it," he added.

One client is quoted on Newcomb's lawfirm bio saying: "[W]hen Newcomb is on your team, government attorneys take you seriously—he has a tremendous amount of credibility."

Additonal reporting by David Adams