Caracas, May 19, 2015 (venezuelanalysis.com) - US federal authorities have opened an investigation accusing Venezuelan National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello and other top officials of involvement in international cocaine trafficking and money laundering.
"There is extensive evidence to justify that he [Cabello] is one of the heads, if not the head, of the cartel," a justice department official claimed during an interview with The Wall Street Journal. No evidence was presented to support the allegation.
The move follows accusations of illegal activities leveled against Cabello by his former head bodyguard Leamsy Salazar, who fled to United States in December and has reportedly been offered witness protection by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
These unverified accusations were subsequently published as fact by ABC España and other right-wing newspapers, prompting Cabello to seek legal action for libel.
Cabello has accused Salazar of being an "infiltrator" and other Bolivarian officials have alleged US involvement.
Apart from Cabello, the US has also announced investigations of ex-Interior Minister and current Aragua governor Tarek El Aissami, who was accused by ABC España of unspecified ties to "Islamic networks", former director of military intelligence Hugo Carvajal, head of the National Guard Nestor Reverol, industry minister and head tax collector Jose David Cabello, and National Guard General Motta Dominguez.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is not among those included in the US probe.
The DEA, which has long been criticized of using the "drug war" as an excuse for spying on left-wing governments in the region, has neither confirmed nor denied its role in the federal investigation.
Venezuela severed ties with the DEA in 2005 and has claimed that drug seizures have been on the rise ever since.
Last year alone, Bolivarian authorities confiscated 47 tons of drugs, up from 2012 and 2013, and conducted 37,359 anti-drug educational activities.
Venezuelan officials have yet to issue a response to the allegations raised by US federal authorities.