Politics

Accused ‘frontman’ in Venezuelan drug ring also tees it up at Trump’s Doral golf resort

Samark Lopez Bello, a petroleum distribution executive in Venezuela, has been accused by the U.S. government of acting as a ‘frontman’ for a major narcotics smuggling ring the U.S. says is run by the country’s vice president. He is also a member of one of President Donald Trump’s luxury golf course resorts in South Florida, according to several members and a membership list. This photo is from his company’s website.
Samark Lopez Bello, a petroleum distribution executive in Venezuela, has been accused by the U.S. government of acting as a ‘frontman’ for a major narcotics smuggling ring the U.S. says is run by the country’s vice president. He is also a member of one of President Donald Trump’s luxury golf course resorts in South Florida, according to several members and a membership list. This photo is from his company’s website.

The Trump administration this week froze the assets of a wealthy Venezuelan businessman named Samark Lopez Bello, accusing him of being the “frontman” in a narco-trafficking scheme run by the country’s vice president.

It turns out that Lopez Bello, a petroleum distribution executive in Venezuela, is also a member of one of President Donald Trump’s luxury golf course resorts in South Florida.

His name is on a confidential membership roster at Trump National Doral provided to The Herald. Several members also confirmed the businessman is a member at the luxury resort purchased by President Trump in early 2012, where memberships run as high as $50,000 plus annual fees. It wasn’t clear Friday how long Lopez Bello had been a member there or if he joined before Trump’s purchase of the renowned golf destination.

Helen Ferre, special assistant to the president and director of media affairs, responded to questions about Lopez Bello with a short email statement: “This is not a White House issue, the President is divested from the business.”

Before his election, Trump companies owned or operated 17 golf resorts around the world, collectively with thousands of members. Doral National has about 900 members. And it’s not unusual that a Venezuelan executive would gravitate to Doral. The city — a booming community 15 miles west of Miami — has strong ties to the country, with one of the largest populations of Venezuelan nationals in the United States.

On Monday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against Lopez Bello, labeling him “frontman” to Venezuelan Executive Vice President Tareck Zaidan El Aissami — the main target of the U.S. sanctions under what is known as the Foreign Kingpin Designation Act. The U.S. said Lopez Bello has “provided material assistance, financial support, or goods or services in support of the international narcotics trafficking of, and acting for or on behalf of El Aissami.”

As a result, assets from 13 companies and properties owned or controlled by Lopez Bello — from the British Virgin Islands to Panama and the U.S — have been frozen. In Miami alone, Miami-Dade property records show his sanctioned companies own three downtown Miami luxury condominiums valued at more than $7 million. All three listings are in the Millenium Tower Residences at the Four Seasons Hotel on Brickell Avenue in downtown Miami. The units have not yet been technically seized by the government but the designation restricts their sale.

Lopez Bello responded to Treasury’s accusations from Caracas the same day. A press release on his company’s website called the listing “unjustified.”

“The listing provides no factual evidence or legal justification as to why Samark Lopez should be placed on the list, other than that Samark Lopez and Tareck El Aissami are personal acquaintances,’’ the statement said. “The listing appears to be politically motivated.”

El Assaimi, whose fortune is estimated at more than $3 billion by the U.S. government, was named to his post by President Nicolás Maduro earlier this year. The U.S. claims he facilitated the shipment of more than 1,000 kilos of narcotics from Venezuela to either the U.S. or Mexico.

On Friday morning, Lopez Bello was still listed on the Doral membership directory, according to copies of the private list provided to The Herald. Two Doral members, who did not want their names disclosed, said that Lopez Bello’s membership had been the subject of discussions between members of the golf resort for much of the week. The two members who spoke to The Herald said they did not know Lopez Bello personally and they did not know the last time he may have visited.

Karen Landa, director of membership operations at Doral National said the resort’s membership list was confidential and she would not confirm if Lopez Bello belonged.

“I can’t discuss any personal things about our members,” she said.

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