The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency announced today that it has put a $5 million bounty on the head of the Superintendent of Venezuela Government Cryptocurrency.
Joselit Ramirez Camacho, is “accused of having deep political, social and economic ties to multiple alleged narcotics kingpins, including the country’s former vice president, Tareck El Aissami,” according to a statement released on June 1 by the ICE Homeland Security Investigations division.
In an indictment released today by Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Ramirez Camacho, El Assami, and a third man, Samark Jose Lopez Bello, were charged with eight counts of violating U.S. sanctions, money laundering, and violating the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.
For Ramirez Camacho, the latter charges came from working with El Assami and Lopez Bello on Maduro’s contested reelection campaign. Both have been designated drug kingpins, making working with them an offense under U.S. law. The indictment did not mention any involvement by Ramirez Camacho in the illegal drugs trade.
According to the indictment, “the defendants, and others known and unknown, used U.S.-based companies to charter private flights, including at times on U.S.-registered aircraft, in connection with [Nicholas] Maduro Moros’ 2018 campaign for the Venezuelan presidency.”
Ramirez Camacho conspired to “launder payments for… unlawful acts via bulk cash smuggling from Caracas, Venezuela to New York, NY,” the indictment charged.
The sanctions were imposed under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, and the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC).
Berman’s office declined to comment.
Petro snake oil
Venezuela is suffering from hyperinflation and a shortage of basic food and medicine due to the failed economic policies of the regime of President Nicholas Maduro. The U.S. and other governments claim Maduro stole the May 2018 election and do not recognize his government as legitimate.
Venezuela and its leadership has been under a variety of U.S. sanctions for more than a decade. With its economy collapsing, the Venezuelan government in late 2018 launched its own cryptocurrency, the Petro. Venezuela claims the central bank digital currency is backed by oil and mineral reserves, but the existence of this reserve has been disputed.
In January, Maduro announced plans to revive the Petro, which has failed to gain any traction inside or outside of the country, according to Bloomberg. Specifically, he said at the time that he wanted to begin selling oil in Petros, hoping to eventually move all of Venezuela’s oil sales to the cryptocurrency. It didn’t work.
Bitcoin use, on the other hand, has been booming in Venezuela. On May 8, Panamanian cryptocurrency exchange Cryptobuyer announced a partnership with payment processor Mega Soft, which processes payment in more than 20,000 Venezuelan stores, including a number of large chains.
The kingpin connection
El Aissami was Venezuela’s minister of interior and justice from 2008 until 2012, when he became governor of Venezuela’s Aragua state. On Jan. 4, 2017, El Aissami was made Vice President, which put him in charge of Venezuela’s intelligence agency. He is currently minister of petroleum.
According to an August 2018 statement by Berman’s office, he “facilitated shipments of narcotics from Venezuela, including control over planes that left from a Venezuelan air base and routing drugs through Venezuelan ports. 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 final destinations in Mexico and the United States.”
Lopez Bello was charged with providing “material assistance and financial support to El Aissami’s international narcotics trafficking activities,” the U.S. Attorney’s office stated.