Recent US sanctions against four top Venezuela government officials and close collaborators, among them the country’s first lady, add new dimensions and further support to the theory that Venezuela is a mafia state.
On September 25, the US Treasury Department announced the addition of Cilia Flores, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s wife, to the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list, which is managed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The decision stems from allegations that she supported actions intended to keep her husband in power. Maduro has been accused of being implicated in human rights violations, corruption and money laundering.
In the press release about the additions to the SDN list, Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin was quoted as saying that “President Maduro relies on his inner circle to maintain his grip on power, as his regime systematically plunders what remains of Venezuela’s wealth. We are continuing to designate loyalists who enable Maduro to solidify his hold on the military and the government while the Venezuelan people suffer.”
He added that the “Treasury will continue to impose a financial toll on those responsible for Venezuela’s tragic decline, and the networks and front-men they use to mask their illicit wealth.”
Flores has served as a National Assembly deputy and its president, as well as a member of the National Constituent Assembly (Asamblea Nacional Constituyente – ANC) -- a legislative body many consider illegal. She has also served as Venezuela’s solicitor general.
Flores’ nephews, Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efraín Antonio Campo Flores, were sentenced to 18 years in US prison for conspiring to traffic cocaine into the United States.
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In addition to Flores, the latest round of sanctions under US President Donald Trump has reached Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, Vice President Delcy Rodríguez, and her brother, Communication and Information Minister Jorge Rodríguez. All were penalized for supporting Maduro’s efforts to remain in power.
Also sanctioned were José Omar Paredes and Édgar Sarria Díaz, the latter of whom is the brother of businessman Rafael Sarria, who currently acts as an ANC front man for Maduro and ANC President Diosdado Cabello. Sarria and Cabello were sanctioned in May, and Cabello has been accused of corruption and drug trafficking. The assets the OFAC froze include a private jet owned by Sarria and three companies.
InSight Crime Analysis
With the OFAC’s recent additions, the list of Maduro government and military officials under US sanctions now totals 66 people, including the Venezuelan president himself. While in some cases these individuals are penalized for human rights violations or attacks against democracy, a large number of Venezuelan officials were added based on allegations of drug trafficking and corruption.
First lady Flores was sanctioned because she has been supporting her husband’s actions as president of Venezuela, many of which have endowed the country with characteristics befitting a mafia state, according to an InSight Crime investigation.
Upon learning of the sanctions against his wife, Maduro defended her, saying in a televised address, “You don’t mess with Cilia. You don’t mess with family. Don’t be cowards! Her only crime [is] being my wife.”
Flores is considered a key player who wields a lot of power within the Maduro regime. And although she has not been implicated in any drug trafficking or corruption investigations, complaints of nepotism were lodged against her during her term as National Assembly president for flooding the legislative body’s payroll with new hires from her family.
SEE ALSO: Investigation: Venezuela: A Mafia State?
However, the same cannot be said for Flores’ nephews, one of whom she raised herself. Franqui and Efraín Flores are currently serving sentences in the United States for drug trafficking. They operated for 12 years and maintained ties with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC).
Moreover, the US Treasury Department and the government of Panama sanctioned another close nephew of the first lady for corruption: Carlos Erick Malpica Flores, who in the past served as treasurer of the nation and finance head at state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PdVSA).
Other family members have been called into question as well. Flores’ three children from a previous marriage were mentioned in an investigation conducted by a US attorney general’s office as the alleged recipients of approximately $200 million from a money laundering operation. The case, dubbed Operation Money Flight, alleges that suspects siphoned more than $1.2 billion from PdVSA in the scheme.
The US sanction against Cilia Flores will not only affect Maduro’s more intimate circles. It also has great potential to reveal other key players in the Chavez and Maduro governments who may have contributed to transforming Venezuela into the mafia state it is today.