Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro and Tareck El Aissami
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (center) stands next to Venezuela's Vice President Tareck El Aissami (left), as he receives a welcome with military honors upon his arrival at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Jan. 9, 2017. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

Venezuelan Vice President Tarek El Aissami, blacklisted Monday by the U.S. Treasury Department for his alleged role in aiding narcotics trafficking, on Tuesday characterized the drug charges and sanctions imposed on him as an “imperialist aggression.”

“We shall not be distracted by these miserable provocations,” El Aissami said in a tweet. “We will see this vile aggression dispelled.”

“May we not be distracted by these miserable provocations,” he wrote in another tweet. “Our principal job is to work with @NicolasMaduro in the economic recovery.”

The vice president, who is accused of “playing a significant role in international narcotics trafficking” by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the agency in charge of enforcing U.S. sanctions, was also defended by Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro in a state television address Tuesday.

“Venezuela will respond, step by step, with balance and force ... they will retract and apologize publicly to our vice president,” Maduro said.

He defended El Aissami by asserting that under the campaigns led by the vice president, more than 100 drug kingpins were caught, and many of them were extradited to the U.S.

Maduro also ordered his foreign minister to urge a complaint with the U.S. Embassy in Caracas. Characterizing the charges as a plot to undermine the government, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement Tuesday that said “they [U.S. government] constitute an infamy against the highest authority of the state, and constitute without doubt a false positive against a decent and dignified Venezuelan,” according to the New York Times.

In addition, the Venezuelan Minister for Foreign Affairs reportedly said that the U.S. actions seek to "oxygenate the weak and extinct Venezuelan opposition, to consummate a political coup against the democratic institutions of Venezuela."

The sanctions imposed on El Aissami by OFAC, under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, freeze his assets estimated by various accounts to be ranging from tens of millions of dollars to $3 billion.

“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,” OFAC Acting Director John E. Smith said.

Venezuela vice president kingpin narcotics Trafficker
Unite States Treasury handout on sanctions imposed on Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami and his frontman Samark Lopez Bello. US Treasury Website

OFAC accused El Aissami of facilitating “shipments of narcotics from Venezuela, to include control over planes that leave from a Venezuelan air base, as well as control of drug routes through the ports in Venezuela,” and associating with “Los Zetas, a violent Mexican drug cartel ... Colombian drug lord Daniel Barrera Barrera and Venezuelan drug trafficker Hermagoras Gonzalez Polanco.”

“This case highlights our continued focus on narcotics traffickers and those who help launder their illicit proceeds through the United States,” Smith added in a statement. “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.”

The United States also sanctioned El Aissami’s “frontman” Samark López.

López issued a statement denying the charges. “Mr López is not a government official and has not engaged in drug trafficking,” said a statement on his website describing him as a “legitimate businessman.”