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In this Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017 photo, Venezuela's Vice-President Tareck El Aissami, right, is saluted by Boilivarian Army officer upon his arrival for a military parade at Fort Tiuna in Caracas, Venezuela. A bipartisan group of 34 U.S. lawmakers has sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to step up pressure on Venezuela's government by immediately sanctioning officials responsible for corruption and human rights abuses. The letter, partly prompted by an Associated Press investigation on graft in Venezuela’s food imports, also calls for a thorough probe into alleged drug trafficking and support for Middle Eastern terror groups by the country’s vice president. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Trump slapped sanctions on Venezuela's vice president for drug trafficking


President Donald Trump's administration slapped sanctions on Venezuela's Vice President Tareck El Aissami on Monday under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act for allegedly playing a role in international drug trafficking. 

The announcement, which was made on the Treasury Department's website, will likely heighten tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela.  

El Aissami's U.S. assets were frozen and he will be barred from entering the country as part of the sanctions. 

The U.S. government is also sanctioning Venezuelan businessman, Samark Lopez, who is believed to be El Aissami's main front man. Because of that action, 13 companies owned by Lopez will be blocked. 

El Aissami has yet to react to the sanctions, but has previously denied any criminal ties. 

This move comes just a week after a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers sent a letter urging Trump to put pressure on Venezuela's government. 

In particular, the letter called for sanctioning top Venezuelan officials for corruption and human rights abuses. El Aissami, 42, has been under investigation for years, particularly after he served as the country's interior minister and fraudulent passports ended up in the hands of alleged members of Hezbollah. 

A former Obama administration official said the sanctions were months in the making. 

"This was an overdue step to ratchet up pressure on the Venezuelan regime and signal that top officials will suffer consequences if they continue to engage in massive corruption, abuse human rights and dismantle democracy," said Mark Feierstein, who served as Obama's top national security adviser on Latin America.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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