Venezuela's Maduro to face U.S. drug trafficking charges: source

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government is expected to bring criminal charges against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and at least a half-dozen other Venezuelan officials on Thursday, accusing them of involvement in drug trafficking, a person familiar with the matter said.

The Justice Department is expected to unseal the charges against Maduro, a socialist leader who already faces U.S. sanctions and has been the target of a U.S. pressure campaign aimed at pushing him from power, the source told Reuters.

The indictment, a rare U.S. action against a sitting foreign head of state, marks a serious escalation against Maduro by Washington at a time when some U.S. officials have privately said President Donald Trump is increasingly frustrated with the results of his Venezuela policy.

The United States and dozens of other countries have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's legitimate president. But Maduro has remained in power, backed by the country's military and by Russia, China and Cuba.

U.S. officials have long accused Maduro and his associates or running a "narco-state," saying they have used drug trafficking proceeds to make up for lost revenue from a Venezuelan oil sector heavily sanctioned by the United States.

The indictment to be unveiled on Thursday is expected to accuse Maduro and other senior officials of conspiring with the leftist Colombian guerrilla group FARC to ship massive amounts of cocaine to the United States and other countries, the person familiar with the matter said.

The White House declined comment.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Alistair Bell and Howard Goller)

03/26/2020 14:39

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