Washington sanctions Venezuela's Cabello for drug trafficking, Florida companies hit

Diosdado Cabello, center, surrounded by bodyguards and supporters during an 'anti-imperialist march' on Aug. 14, 2017.
Diosdado Cabello, center, surrounded by bodyguards and supporters during an 'anti-imperialist march' on Aug. 14, 2017. AP

The U.S. Treasury slapped sanctions on one of Venezuela’s most powerful men Friday — Diosdado Cabello, along with his family and economic adviser — accusing him of drug trafficking, money laundering and illegal mining.

The sanctions come as Washington is turning up the heat on the South American nation just days before presidential elections.

Also named in Friday’s report are Cabello’s brother, Jose David Cabello, the head of the tax department, and Cabello’s wife, Marleny Josefina Contreras.

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The designation also covers three South Florida companies linked to Rafael Alfredo Sarria, whom Treasury called a "front man" who helped Cabello launder money. The companies, all with Boca Raton addresses, were identified as 111420 Corp., Noor Plantation Investments, LLC, and SAI Advisors Inc.

The Treasury designation freezes the U.S. assets of the individuals and companies, and prohibits U.S. citizens and residents from doing business with them.

Cabello is the former head of the National Assembly and the current vice president of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, who rose to power under the wing of late President Hugo Chavez. He's also one of the administration's most vocal anti-Washington critics.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — who has clashed with Cabello in the past — reacted to the news by taunting him on Twitter.

"What size [prison] uniform do you wear these days extra large or XX-large? Just want to make sure your stay is as comfortable as possible," he wrote.

The Treasury Department said Cabello was involved in the illegal extraction and exportation of iron from state-run companies, and was "directly involved in narcotics trafficking activities," organizing drug shipments from Venezuela to Europe through the Dominican Republic.

“The Venezuelan people suffer under corrupt politicians who tighten their grip on power while lining their own pockets. We are imposing costs on figures like Diosdado Cabello who exploit their official positions to engage in narcotics trafficking, money laundering, embezzlement of state funds and other corrupt activities,” Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement. “This administration is committed to holding those accountable who violate the trust of the Venezuelan people, and we will continue to block attempts to abuse the U.S. financial system.”

The sanctions come as Venezuela is barreling toward presidential elections Sunday that the United States and the European Union have said they will not recognize.

President Nicolás Maduro, who first took power in 2013, is expected to win a new six-year term even as major opposition parties are calling for a boycott.

Washington has hit more than 60 current and former officials with sanctions in recent years, including Maduro, but Cabello had been conspicuously absent from those lists.

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