A former Venezuelan government official revealed Sunday that the socialist government issued at least 10,000 Venezuelan passports and other official documents to citizens of Syria, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries.
In an interview with El Nuevo Herald, Colonel Vladimir Medrano Rengifo, former director of Venezuela’s Office of Identification, Migration and Foreigners, claimed that the operation was headed by current Vice President Tareck El Aissami, and that most of the passports and visas were issued in the Venezuelan Consulate in Damascus, the capital of Syria.
Medrano, who currently lives in the United States, said, “Today we don’t know where these people are, nor what they are doing. They can be anywhere in the world, traveling with Venezuelan documentation.” He noted that the number of Middle Easterners in possession of irregular Venezuelan documentation could be much larger.
In October 2009, then Minister of Interior and Justice El Aissami dismissed Colonel Medrano, reportedly because Medrano knew El Aissami was attempting to break up the human smuggling network.
Although El Aissami is one of the most powerful men in Venezuela, the United States has an ongoing investigation into his alleged links to drug trafficking and to the Islamist militant group Hezbollah.
El Aissami became the most senior Venezuelan official to ever be targeted by the United States government when, in January, sanctions were issued against him and Samark Lopez, a wealthy Venezuelan businessman living in Miami who is thought to be El Aissami’s front man.
Medrano asserted in the Sunday interview that El Aissami was personally involved in the passport scheme. He also claimed that whenever his office raised questions about the Syria-issued passports, El Aissami ordered him ignore the irregularities.
According to Medrano, the passports were legitimate, but the people to whom they were issued were not Venezuelans.
“[El Aissami] called me every time these flights landed (…) and we tried to detain [the people carrying the suspicious passports]. He pressured us in an excessive manner so this would not be done and let his ‘cousins’ get in, as he called them,” Medrano said.
When immigration officials at the airport reviewed the illegally-issued passports, it was found that the identities were stolen from deceased people with a different name.
Venezuela was the wealthiest South American nation at one time, but it has been in financial decline since Nicolás Maduro assumed power following the 2013 death of socialist leader Hugo Chávez.
Venezuela’s economy has been devastated by a drop in global oil prices and the country has been troubled by the worst inflation rate in the world, close to 700 percent in 2016, according to the International Monetary Fund.
H/T: Fox News
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