CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — U.S. authorities filed charges Wednesday against a former Venezuelan lawmaker linked with President Nicolás Maduro accusing him of narco-terrorism and weapons crimes.
Federal prosecutors in New York alleged Adel El Zabayar participated with Maduro and other top Venezuelan officials as a key player in a scheme to flood the United States with tons of cocaine.
It follows a similar indictment of Maduro two months ago that U.S. authorities used to announce a $15 million reward for the socialist leader’s arrest. The Trump administration has increased pressure to oust Maduro.
El Zabayar, 56, remains out of U.S. custody and he could not immediately be reached by The Associated Press for comment. Venezuelan officials did not immediately comment on the charges.
El Zabayar served as a lawmaker in the government of the late socialist leader Hugo Chávez. He traveled to Syria in 2013, taking up arms to defend its government in the Syrian civil war. U.S. prosecutors say El Zabayar served as an important intermediary between Venezuelan officials and the militant Muslim groups Hezbollah and Hamas.
Zabayar rejected the U.S. indictment on Twitter, declaring it a victory rather than a defeat. The Associated Press could not independently confirm Zabayar’s Twitter account, but court records show a screen shot of it.
“It’s an honor that the great enemies of my native country, Venezuela and my ancestral Syria, have invented such rage,” Zabayar said. “This means that we’re doing well.”