The US Treasury announced on Monday that it is to add Venezuelan Vice-President Tarek El Aissami to its sanctions list after an investigation alleged he is aiding international drug traffickers. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated El Aissami under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, accusing him of a "significant role in international narcotics trafficking".

The OFAC statement also placed sanctions on a Venezuelan national, Samark Jose Lopez Bello, calling him El Aissami's "frontman" and accusing him of "providing material assistance, financial support, or goods or services in support of the international narcotics trafficking activities of, and acting for or on behalf of, El Aissami".

The sanctions mean both men will have any US-based assets frozen and US nationals are barred from engaging in transactions or dealings with them. OFAC accuses El Aissami of facilitating drug shipments to and from Venezuela, including large shipments destined for America, as well as aiding and protecting other traffickers.

"OFAC's action today is the culmination of a multi-year investigation under the Kingpin Act to target significant narcotics traffickers in Venezuela and demonstrates that power and influence do not protect those who engage in these illicit activities," said Acting Director of OFAC John E. Smith.

"This case highlights our continued focus on narcotics traffickers and those who help launder their illicit proceeds through the United States. Denying a safe haven for illicit assets in the United States and protecting the U.S. financial system from abuse remain top priorities of the Treasury Department."

Lopez Bello has had five companies in the US owned or overseen by him blocked as part of the sanctions, as well as "significant real property and other assets in the Miami, Florida area". US citizens who break the sanctions on Lopez Bello and El Aissami could face up to 10 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.

El Aissami became vice president in January 2017. He was previously minister of the interior and justice and is the former Governor of Aragua.