US announces reward up to US$15 million for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro

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Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, in La Guaira, Venezuela, on Dec 8, 2019. PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - The US government on Thursday (March 26) indicted Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and other top Venezuelan officials on charges of "narco-terrorism," the latest escalation of the Trump administration's pressure campaign against the socialist leader.

The State Department offered a reward of up to US$15 million (S$21 million) for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Maduro, who has been in power since 2013.

Attorney-General William Barr announced the charges against Maduro, who already faces US sanctions and has been the target of a US effort aimed at pushing him from power.

Barr accused Maduro and his associates of conspiring with a dissident faction of the leftist Colombian guerilla group Farc "to flood the United States with cocaine".

President Donald Trump and top US officials have long sought to oust Maduro's regime but have so far failed to replace him with the opposition leader they support, National Assembly President Juan Guaido.

The charges, which were reported earlier by CNN and the Miami Herald, will be related to drug trafficking, the people said.

About US$2 billion (S$2.8 billion) worth of cocaine, about a quarter of what is produced in Colombia in a year, passes through Venezuela before making its way to other countries last year, according to Jeremy McDermott, co-founder of Insight Crime, a research group that studies organised crime.

There is evidence that the criminal groups that transport these drugs have infiltrated Venezuelan government security forces, forming a network known as the "Cartel of the Suns" to facilitate the passage of illicit drugs into and out the country, according to a 2019 report by the United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board.

The indictment against Maduro, a sitting head of state, would be the first since the US issued charges against former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega.

Noriega was eventually captured and sentenced to prison after then-President George H.W. Bush sent troops to the country to bring him to justice.

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