Caracas, Venezuela (VA) – A South Florida man was arrested by U.S. federal authorities yesterday and charged with using his Doral-based Bank of America accounts to launder over $100 million on behalf of Colombian drug cartels and paramilitaries.
According to federal prosecutors, Lustgarden Acherman “quarterbacked an international scheme to move U.S. dollars around on behalf of drug cartels and paramilitary organizations in Colombia.”
The federal government alleges that Acherman used three U.S. accounts to channel Colombian drug profits into Venezuela where he reportedly exchanged them for local currency at exorbitant black market rates.”He takes advantage of the unique situation in Venezuela…. has made a business of gathering U.S. dollars and making them available in places they are hard to come by such as Venezuela,” stated prosecutors in court on Monday.
Limited access to dollars has fueled a booming black market in Venezuela, where one U.S. dollar can be exchanged for close to 300 Bolivars.
Colombian drug cartels have actively exploited this economic crisis, carting off to Colombia tons of government-regulated products- from gasoline to imported medicines- where they can be exchanged for dollars and drugs, which are then sold in Venezuela to make obscene profits. This highly lucrative contraband has financed the emergence of new paramilitary groups, which now control significant swathes of territory along the border between Venezuela and Colombia.
These retain close ties not only with the Colombian political establishment, which has nurtured their growth for decades as part of the war against leftist guerrillas, but also with the Venezuelan Right. Last year, Loreh Gomez Saleh was extradited from Colombia and charged alongside four others with plotting terrorist attacks against the Bolivarian government in coordination with Colombian paramilitaries.
In a series of intercepted Skype conversations, Saleh repeatedly named long-time rightwing politician Antonio Ledezma as the chief backer of violent anti-government militants, prompting the ex-mayor’s arrest and indictment. Bolivarian authorities also allege that Colombian paramilitaries are behind last year’s high-profile assassinations of chavista parliamentarian Robert Serra and the leftist president of the Caracas city council Eliezer Otaiza, both of whom outspoken opponents of Venezuela’s Right.