Tareck El Aissami
|Tareck El Aissami|
|Vice President of Venezuela|
4 January 2017
|Preceded by||Aristóbulo Istúriz|
|Governor of Aragua|
|Preceded by||Rafael Isea|
|Succeeded by||Caryl Bertho|
|Minister of Interior and Justice|
September 2008 – October 2012
|Preceded by||Ramón Rodríguez Chacín|
|Succeeded by||Néstor Reverol|
|Born||Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah
12 November 1974
El Vigía, Mérida
|Political party||United Socialist Party|
|Alma mater||University of the Andes|
Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah (Spanish pronunciation: [taˈɾek ˈsaiðan ˈel aisˈsami ˈmaða]; Arabic: طارق زيدان العيسمي مداح, born 12 November 1974) is a Venezuelan politician who has been Vice President of Venezuela since January 2017. The U.S. government added Venezuelan Vice President Tarek El Aissami to its sanctions list in early 2017, saying he “played a significant role in international narcotics trafficking” and he was accused of being a drug kingpin. Previously he was Minister of the Interior and Justice from 2008 to 2012 and Governor of Aragua from 2012 to 2017. El Aissami has faced allegations of participating in corruption, money laundering and drug trafficking, all of which he has denied.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Education
- 3 Political career
- 4 Controversy
- 5 Personal life
- 6 See also
- 7 References
El Aissami, one of five children, was born on 12 November 1974 in El Vigía, Mérida, Venezuela, where he spent his childhood. His father, Zaidan El Amin El Aissami, who is also known as Carlos Zaidan, was a Druze immigrant from Jabal al-Druze in Syria, who led a local Iraqi Ba'athist Party in Venezuela and had connections with leftist political movements in the Middle East, supported Hugo Chávez during the February 1992 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt and was arrested. Another family member of El Aissami's involved in Ba'athism was his great-uncle, Shibli El Aissami, who was the Assistant Secretary General of the National Command of the Iraqi-dominated Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party. El Aissami's mother is of Lebanese origin.
Studying both law and criminology, El Aissami attended the University of the Andes (ULA) in Mérida, Venezuela, a city that "for decades been a haven for guerrilla groups, both domestic and foreign". While there, he was a student of Adán Chávez Frías, the older brother of Hugo Chávez, who was said to have been a mentor to El Aissami.
Utopia, a leftist student movement with links to the guerrilla group Bolivarian Forces of Liberation, was active on ULA's campus. El Aissami joined Utopia and befriended one of its founders, Hugo Cabezas. In 2001, El Aissami became involved in student politics and became president of the student union at ULA, with his tenure reportedly having an increase of radical student and criminal activities according to ULA officials. According to the vice rector of academic affairs at ULA, student dormitories which were allegedly occupied by Utopia and its allies, of the 1,122 living there, "only 387 are active students and more than 600 have no university connections", and that there were "always weapons there". Unnamed opponents claimed that during student elections El Aissami threatened other candidates with armed gangs, while former governor Florencio Porras (PSUV) accused him of attempting to rig student elections. Following the September 11 attacks in 2001, it was also reported by witnesses that El Aissami had celebrated the attacks on the United States.
On 27 March 2003, days after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, El Aissami and his father attended a press conference with Iraq's ambassador to Venezuela, denouncing the United States invasion of Iraq and showing "solidarity" with "the defenseless Iraqi people." El Aissami then first met Hugo Chávez while attending ULA and followed Chávez as a self-described radical chavista since. He dedicated time during his post graduate studies to supporting Chávez's Fifth Republic Movement (MVR). In July 2003, El Aissami lost his reelection campaign as president of the student union by 70% compared to other candidates, with the newly elected student council finding their office robbed and damaged. After graduating with magna cum laude honors, El Aissami maintained his connections with fellow ULA students as he entered into politics, with members of Utopia later obtaining positions in Venezuela's Bolivarian government.
In September 2003, Hugo Cabezas, El Aissami's close friend from the ULA and Utopia, was appointed to be the head of the National Office of Identification and Foreigners (ONIDEX), a passport and naturalization agency that was part of Venezuela's interior ministry, by President Hugo Chávez. The same year, after El Aissami had lost the student reelection campaign, Cabezas invited him to work as his deputy at ONIDEX. Cabezas and El Aissami were then assigned to Mission Identidad, a Bolivarian mission tasked with creating national identifications for Venezuelans. Soon after, the program "was criticized for allegedly granting identity documents to unqualified foreign nationals"
National Assembly and Interior Ministry
From 2007 to 2008, he served in the Ministry of the Interior as the Vice Minister of Citizen Security. In September 2008, Hugo Chávez appointed El Aissami as Minister of the Interior and Justice In 2009, he stated that anti-drug operations in Venezuela had improved following the expulsion of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from Venezuela, stating that the Colombian and United States government anti-drug agencies had "turned into important drug-trafficking cartels". On 24 August 2011, El Aissami announced the ban on the public use of firearms in Venezuela. El Aissami headed the Ministry of the Interior and Justice until he was elected governor in 2012.
He served as the Governor of Aragua from 2012 until 2017. The Iranian military company Qods Aviation, which was sanctioned under the 2007 UN Security Council Resolution 1747, has operated in Aragua since 2008 in collaboration with the Venezuelan Military Industries Company Ltd. The joint project continued throughout El Aissami's tenure.
According to analyst David Smilde of Washington Institute on Latin America (WOLA), while serving as Governor of Aragua, El Aissami "presided over a police force that came to be one of the most violent and abusive in the country". Despite enacting 21 security plans for Aragua, violence continued to increase, with the murder rate at 142 murders per 100,000 citizens in 2016.
President Nicolás Maduro appointed El Aissami as Vice-President on 4 January 2017. Due to controversy surrounding El Aissimi, the appointment was contentious. If a recall election were to occur in 2017, he would become the President of Venezuela until 2019.
On 26 January 2017, President Maduro ruled by decree that El Aissami could use economic decree powers as well, granting El Aissami powers that a Vice-President in Venezuela had not held before and power that rivaled Maduro's own powers. El Aissami was granted the power to decree over "everything from taxes to foreign currency allotments for state-owned companies" as well as "hiring practices to state-owned enterprises". The move made El Aissami one of the most powerful men in Venezuela.
Drug trafficking and money laundering allegations
Since 2011, the Homeland Security Investigations branch of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration have investigated El Aissami for his alleged acts of money laundering in the Middle East, specifically in Lebanon. According to The Wall Street Journal, El Aissami has been under investigation by the United States for his alleged activities in drug trafficking since 2015. Rafael Isea, the preceding governor of Aragua, stated that El Aissami was allegedly paid off by drug kingpin Walid Makled (es) in order to receive drug shipments in Venezuela. Before being extradited to Venezuela Makled allegedly told DEA agents that from 2007 to 2012, he paid El Aissami's brother, Feras El Aissami, and told them to launder the money in the Venezuelan oil industry.
On 13 February 2017 El Aissami was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. US officials accused him of facilitating drug shipments from Venezuela to Mexico and the US, freezing tens of millions of dollars of assets purportedly under El Aissami's control. A day later, Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly voted in favour of opening an investigation into El Aissami's alleged involvement in drug trafficking. El Aissami has denied any criminal wrongdoing while President Maduro defended him saying "Venezuela will respond, step by step, with balance and force ... They will retract and apologize publicly to our vice president", while also stating that El Aissami had arrested more than 100 drug traffickers, with 21 being extradited to the United States. In an open letter, published as an advertisement in the New York Times, El Aissami stated: "I have no assets or accounts in the United States or in any country of the world, and it is both absurd and pathetic that an American administrative body —without presenting any evidence— adopts a measure to freeze goods and assets that I do not own at all."
Following arrests surrounding the Narcosobrinos incident, an event that resulted in the arrest and conviction of President Maduro's nephews, links were allegedly found between El Aissami and an accomplice who was arrested in Honduras. According to a source speaking to El Nuevo Herald about the incident, Roberto de Jesús Soto Garcia, a Honduran man who provided logistical information on drug shipments for Maduro's nephews, assisted El Aissami as well. The source stated Soto Garcia worked with a group of Venezuelan officials, called the Cartel of the Suns, and that he worked "particularly with the operation headed by Tarek El Aissami, and his company. He's someone who has been working with them for some time now." According to testimony from the nephews, the cocaine that was to be transported to the United States by the two was allegedly supplied by El Aissami.
Terrorism network allegations
In 2003, the U.S. News & World Report recorded statements by an anonymous US official that "several thousand" people from "terrorism-sponsoring countries" were obtaining Venezuelan identifications from ONIDEX while El Aissmi was part of its leadership. The official further stated that, "Colombians were the largest group; there were more than a thousand of them. It also included many from Middle Eastern 'countries of interest' like Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, Lebanon. It was shocking to see how extensive the list was".
According to PanAm Post, US prosecutors have alleged that El Aissami was Venezuela's "liaison" with Hezbollah and has provided passports to "terrorist organizations." A report by the Center for a Secure Free Society released in 2014 alleged that Aissami has "developed a sophisticated financial network and multi-level networks as a criminal-terrorist pipeline to bring Islamic militants to Venezuela and neighboring countries, and to send illicit funds from Latin America to the Middle East." The alleged "pipeline" consists of 40 shell companies which have bank accounts in Venezuela, Panama, Curacao, St. Lucia, Miami and Lebanon and is also involved in drug smuggling.
Former Vice President José Vicente Rangel, who served under Hugo Chávez, denounced the SFS study, stating that it was a "combined campaign" by SFS and the Canadian government to attack Venezuela, though Ben Rowswell, the Canadian ambassador in Venezuela, denied the accusations by Rangel.
In a 2015 report by the United States Department of State, "There were credible reports that Venezuela maintained a permissive environment that allowed for support of activities that benefited known terrorist groups." New York County District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau stated that while El Aissami was head of ONIDEX, Venezuela's passport and naturalization agency, he provided passports to Hamas and Hezbollah members. He also stated that it was possible that El Aissami was recruiting Arab Venezuelans to train under Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Joseph Humire, executive director of SFS, states that "Tareck’s network is less ideological and more of a service provider ... It’s not so much built on an ideological affinity to anybody, but who wants to pay to play."
In February 2017, CNN reported in its article "Venezuelan Passports, in the Wrong Hands?", an investigation performed focusing on the sale of Venezuelan passports to individuals in the Middle East, specifically Syria, Palestine, Iraq and Pakistan. According to Misael López Soto, a former employee at the Venezuelan embassy in Iraq who was also a lawyer and CICPC officer, the Bolivarian government would sell authentic passports to individuals from the Middle East, with the Venezuelan passport able to access 130 countries throughout the world without a visa requirement. López provided CNN documents showing how his superiors attempted to cover up the sale of passports, which were being sold from $5,000 to $15,000 per passport. A confidential intelligence report obtained by CNN linked El Aissami to 173 passports and ID's given between 2008 and 2015 to individuals from the Middle East, some of whom were purportedly associated with Hezbollah.
The Bolivarian government did not investigate the allegations made by López and instead initiated an investigation against him for his act of leaking "confidential" documents and stated that he had abandoned his duty. Following the release of the CNN report, President Maduro demanded that CNN leave Venezuela, stating that the network had sought to "manipulate" Venezuelans.
El Aissami is married and has two children. His sister is a diplomat of the Bolivarian government and served as Venezuela's ambassador to the Netherlands until 2016. El Aissami is often seen surrounded by his bodyguards, whom he personally selects.
El Aissami and his father both showed support for the government of Sadaam Hussein following the 2003 invasion of Iraq. His father, Zaidan, wrote the article "Proud to be a Taliban", describing United States President George W. Bush as "genocidal, mentally deranged, a liar and a racist" while also describing the leader of Al-Qaeda as "the great Mujahedeen, Sheik Osama bin Laden". Zaidan El Aissami also alleged that the United States may have been responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks to create an excuse to invade Afghanistan.
Prior to his participation in dialogue between the opposition and Venezuelan government as well as his appointment to the vice presidency, members of El Aissami's family, including his father and mother, traveled to stay in the United States for unknown reasons in late October 2016.
On 4 February 2015, it was revealed that Aragua FC had signed him as a striker. Aragua FC was heavily sponsored from El Aissami's state and there are no records of him receiving playing time on the field as of January 2017.
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|Vice President of Venezuela
|Governor of Aragua
Ramón Rodríguez Chacín
|Minister of Interior and Justice