A man was sentenced in the US this week to 55 months in prison for his connection with a scheme to provide private charter flights to members of former Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s inner circle.
The US continues to crack down on Venezuela sanction violators. And the executive aviation industry is no exception.
Victor Mones Coro, 52, of Florida was convicted by a federal jury this week, and sentenced to 55 months in prison for his involvement in a scheme to provide private charter flights to two prominent members of Former Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s inner circle: Former Venezuelan Vice President Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah and his frontman, Samark Jose Lopez Bello. These flight services violated sanctions imposed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.
Mones Coro will also pay $250,000 in fines and undergo two years of supervised release as part of the sentence.
“Victor Mones Coro led a concerted, sustained multi-year scheme to provide millions of dollars’ worth of illicit flight services to Venezuelan leaders in direct contravention of our country’s sanctions regime and foreign policy,” said U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss for the Southern District of New York. “Today’s sentence serves as a reminder that, together with our law enforcement partners, we will aggressively prosecute sanctions violators to protect our national security.”
As a general rule, US persons, or persons located within the United States are prohibited from providing services to people or entities sanctioned by OFAC. The executive aviation industry is of particular interest, because it often caters to corrupt/sanctioned individuals. The expectation is for US persons, companies, and operators of US registered aircraft to do their due diligence regarding who they provide flight services to.
According to court documents, Mones Coro designed a criminal scheme which included providing flight services to El Aissami and Lopez Bello, among other influential Venezuelans in Maduro’s inner circle, including the President of Venezuela’s Supreme Court, Maikel Moreno, who had also been previously sanctioned by OFAC.
Mones Coro used his U.S.-based company American Charter Services (“ACS”), its planes and its employees to fly Lopez Bello, El Aissami, and others around the world, including to countries of strategic importance to the Maduro regime such as Russia and Turkey.
The DOJ further the described the scheme as Mones Coro providing flights in furtherance of Maduro’s May 2018 campaign for reelection. The US does consider this campaign a corrupt campaign through which Maduro illegitimately maintained control of Venezuela. Mones Coro and his company ACS arranged between 20-25 domestic Venezuelan flights for the Maduro campaign. These flights transported people, campaign materials, and food, among other things, and were coordinated with associates of El Aissami and Lopez Bello.
Mones Coro acted with co-conspirators, including Joselit Ramírez Camacho, Venezuela’s current Superintendent of Cryptocurrencies. In order to conceal the transactions, they used:
– code names,
– falsified flight manifests and invoices,
-communicated over encrypted messaging applications,
-received cash flown into the U.S. from Venezuela, and
– accepted wire transfers from a front company tied to the sanctioned Venezuelan leaders.
Mones Coro also tried to cover his tracks by directing one of his pilots to lie to law enforcement.
Maduro and others are currently charged in the US with narco-terrorism and related crimes in a Superseding Indictment. In a separate Superseding Indictment, El Aissami, Lopez Bello, and Ramírez Camacho are charged with sanctions violations based on their roles in the scheme with Mones Coro.
In May 2019, the United States banned all air transport with Venezuela over security concerns, further isolating the troubled South American nation by severing one of its last links to the world’s largest economy.
The Department of Homeland Security said it decided to suspend all commercial and cargo flights between the United States and Venezuela because the country’s political crisis threatened the safety of passengers, aircraft and crew.
The NOTAM in general concerns all US Air Carriers and commercial operators, and well as US- registered Aircraft (with the exception of foreign air carrier operators)
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