Informant in Venezuela Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami case, acused of lying to feds

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Informant in Venezuela Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami case, acused of lying to feds.

key informant against Venezuela Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami case has been accused of lying to his law enforcement handlers in a case involving millions of dollars transported on private jets in violation of U.S. sanctions, The Associated Press has learned.

It also follows embarrassing revelations in another sanctions case in which a federal judge excoriated the same unit of Manhattan prosecutors targeting El Aissami for withholding exculpatory information about an Iranian businessman seen as a nexus in growing ties between the Islamic republic and Venezuela.

Alejandro Marin, a Venezuelan-born pilot and businessman, was arrested Sept. 19 in Miami on three counts of knowingly making false statements to U.S. federal agents, according to court filings.

A sworn affidavit accompanying the Sept. 4 arrest order doesn’t mention Venezuela or El Aissami.

But it accuses Marin of lying about the equivalent of $140,000 that went missing from a package of 1.3 million euros in cash that he transported by private jet to the U.S. in July 2018 at the direction of federal law enforcement.

Marin, 46, runs a chartered flight business out of Miami’s Opa Locka executive airport. He was signed up as a confidential source to help investigate then Vice President El Aissami and his alleged frontman, businessman Samark Lopez, according to an individual familiar with the case speaking anonymously to discuss the ongoing probe.

The Trump administration sanctioned both men as drug kingpins in 2017, seizing hundreds of millions of dollars from U.S. bank accounts, two yachts, a private plane and Miami real estate it said were the illegal proceeds of cocaine shipments to Mexican cartels “coordinated at the highest levels of Venezuela’s government and military”.

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It later charged them with violating those same sanctions by allegedly using U.S.-based charter companies to arrange private flights on American-registered aircraft to Russia, Turkey and inside Venezuela during Maduro’s 2018 presidential campaign.

Both men are on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 10 most wanted fugitives list (jejeje). Both have denied any wrongdoing and Lopez even appealed unsuccessfully to the U.S. Supreme Court to try and block kidnapping victims of Colombian rebels from taking a $318 million chunk of assets frozen in the U.S. following his designation as a “drug kingpin” by the U.S. Treasury Department.

According to the arrest order, approximately $140,000 of the cash owed to the U.S. government was removed from the packages Marin helped transport on orders of a foreign associate identified only as “Individual 1.” U.S investigators instructed Marin to try and recover the missing funds by having them wired to an account under the control of Homeland Security Investigations, a division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement that is the lead agency for financial crimes stretching beyond U.S. borders.

After two wire transfers were rejected, the money was finally deposited months later to a company controlled by Marin, who never told investigators. About $90,000 came from an organization affiliated with an unnamed foreign soccer team associated with “Individual 1,” according to the testimony of HSI Special Agent Timothy McCann.

Two years later, federal officials in August 2020 asked Marin about the funds that went missing from the package labeled “Marin.” In a series of phone calls with U.S. attorneys and in a subsequent meeting in Manhattan he reiterated that he didn’t recover any of the missing cash.

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However, on Aug. 28, he changed his story and said that after further consultation with his accountant he recalled that he had in fact received $130,000 from “Individual-1,” part of which came from the organization associated with the soccer club.

McCann didn’t name the soccer club in his testimony. El Aissami, a huge soccer fan, in 2015 was added to the roster for a first-division Venezuelan soccer team from the state of Aragua, which he governed from 2012 to 2017. A spokeswoman for the soccer team wouldn’t comment.

It’s not clear what impact, if any, the new revelations will have on the sanctions-busting case against El Aissami, Lopez and three co-defendants who are currently in U.S. federal custody. Only one of them, Victor Mones, owner of the Florida-registered American Charter Services, has pleaded guilty.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Houle in a hearing this week for one of the co-defendants asked Judge Alvin Hellerstein for more time to produce evidence it is required to hand over to defendants that may help them prove their innocence.

“Your Honor, given the developing situation with the confidential source, I don’t want to rule out the possibility that additional information could be collected in the next two weeks,” she said, without mentioning any arrest or referring to the source by name.

Source The Associated Press