On Monday the Wall Street Journal reported that the United States is investigating high level Venezuelan government officials for allegedly turning their country into a global cocaine hub.
Robert Morgenthau, the legendary former Manhattan District Attorney, has been saying that for years — and to him the darkness of Venezuela’s activity doesn’t stop at drug running.
As early as 2009, Morgenthau was telling anyone that would listen of ties that his office was finding between the cocaine that ended up in New York City, the Venezuelan government, and Iran and its agents like terror group Hezbollah.
From a Wall Street Journal op-ed he wrote in 2009 (emphasis ours):
A recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study reported a high level of corruption within the Venezuelan government, military and law enforcement that has allowed that country to become a major transshipment route for trafficking cocaine out of Colombia. Intelligence gathered by my office strongly supports the conclusion that Hezbollah supporters in South America are engaged in the trafficking of narcotics. The GAO study also confirms allegations of Venezuelan support for FARC, the Colombian terrorist insurgency group that finances its operations through narcotics trafficking, extortion and kidnapping.
Morgenthau was the District Attorney of Manhattan from 1975 to 2009 inspiring popular television show ‘Law and Order.’ In that time, of course, he saw his share of drug cases. However, when it came to Venezuela, beginning with the Chavez years, he saw that another actor was getting heavily involved — Iran.
On top of prosecuting tons of drug-related cases, Morgenthau’s office was familiar with how Iran tried to move money around the world, having prosecuted high-profile Iran money laundering and sanctions evading cases involving banks like Lloyds (a UK bank), Credit Suisse, Barclays, Paribas, Commerze Bank and HSBC.
Morgethau believed, and still does, that Chavez’s regime was allowing Iran to use its banking system, and that former Venezeulan Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami specifically helped Iran’s agents obtain Venezuelan passports so they could travel freely around the world.
“We… fought against Iran’s effort to establish a sphere of influence in the western hemisphere,” Morgenthau said at an awards ceremony in Washington last month. “I came to Washington in September 2009 to speak about some of the evidence my office had gathered demonstrating the growth of Iran’s influence in the West, specifically in Venezuela.”
He continued: “In 2009 my office uncovered evidence that the Iranians were supplying manned drones to Venezuela — information we shared with our intelligence services. Time has again proven us right, with public reports in 2012 and 2013 confirming the presence of Iranian drones in Venezuela. Venezuela and Iran have sixty separate agreements covering their business dealings.”
If both the Department of Justice and Morgenthau are correct, one of those business dealings is the trafficking of cocaine.
Morgenthau’s assessment goes along with recent reports by journalists in Brazil, as well as the findings of slain Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman. Nisman died mysteriously in January after over a decade of work investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. When he was found shot to the head in his apartment, he was about to present his findings, which showed that the Argentine government was attempting to hide Iran’s involvement in the bombing.
Nisman believed, and reports corroborate, that it was late-Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who made that cover-up possible after he promised Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that he would inter broker a deal between Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and Iran.
That was in 2007, and in that same meeting, say Venezuelan defectors, Chavez and Ahmadinejad negotiated a flight between Caracas, Damascus and Tehran known as Aeroterror — it was (and perhaps is) a flight that requires a government clearance, and carries more drugs and money than people.
The Venezuelan officials under investigation include Diosdado Cabello, the head of the country’s national legislature, and his brother who is the head of the country’s tax collection agency.
“There is extensive evidence to justify that he [Diosdado] is one of the heads, if not the head, of the cartel,” a Justice Department official told the Wall Street Journal, speaking of a group of military officers and top officials suspected of being involved in the drug trade. “He certainly is a main target.”
National Security experts tell Business Insider that it could take years before the US develops the political operation to bring a powerful figure like Cabello to justice. It will take cooperation from other regional governments. It will take time.
But you’ve got to start somewhere.