U.S. targets 5 Iranian officials in latest sanctions action

OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 12:30 PM PT — Thursday, February 20, 2020

The State Department has blacklisted five Iranian officials, who have been accused of preventing free and fair elections in the Islamic Republic. According to U.S. Special Representative Brian Hook, the sanctions were imposed on members of Iran’s Guardian Council and its Elections Supervision Committee.

Secretary Ahmad Jannati and senior council member Mohammad Yazdi were among those blacklisted. The sanctions will freeze their U.S.-held assets and bar Americans from doing business with them, along with anyone else on the blacklist.

Hook said this isn’t the first time this has happened.

“In 2010, when Iranians protested his sham election, Jannati praised the regime for executing protesters (and) urged more executions until the protest stopped,” he stated. “Jannati is also well known for wishing death to America and Israel whenever the occasion presents itself.”

This new round of sanctions came one day before the nationwide parliamentary vote. Ahead of Friday’s elections, there were 90 sitting lawmakers seeking reelection.

RELATED: Disillusionment Among Women, Youth Seen Dampening Iran Election Turnout

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Nicolas Maduro to file lawsuit against U.S. over sanctions

President Nicolas Maduro, gestures to supporters during a protest against new sanctions by the administration of US President Donald Trump that affect the Venezuelan state airline CONVIASA, in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020.(AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 10:49 AM PT — Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro said he will sue the U.S. government for what he claims is unfair sanctions placed on a state run airliner.

On Monday, Maduro reportedly ordered his top staffers to immediately file a lawsuit against the Trump administration for “damage caused to national companies.”

This comes in response to the U.S. Treasury Department imposing recent sanctions on Venezuelan airliner Conviasa for reportedly “shuttling corrupt officials around the world.”

Maduro claimed interim President Juan Guaido is responsible for the move and called on the general public for support.

“We will seek international justice with a lawsuit against the government of Donald Trump,” he stated. “I have ordered this and I ask for all the support from the national general public, all the support for this international claim.”

Maduro’s concern proceeded after President Trump welcomed Guaido to the White House last week.

President Donald Trump and Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido wave to reporters before a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

RELATED: Maduro Attempts To Oust Guaido As Interim President

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Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov slams U.S. sanctions against Venezuela

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gestures at the end of his visit, as Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez stands behind, at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 12:43 PM PT — Saturday, February 8, 2020

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov slammed U.S. sanctions against Venezuela during his visit to Caracas. Lavrov was joined by President Nicolas Maduro at a press conference on Friday, where he reiterated Russian support and solidarity against pressure by the U.S.

“We have firmly expressed our support to Venezuela’s sovereignty, our solidarity with the Venezuelan leadership and nation in their battle against illegal pressure, which is being imposed by the U.S. and its allies,” he said.

He also vowed to boost bilateral trade between the two countries and to develop cooperation in various sectors.

“It’s also important to develop military cooperation to help Venezuela defend themselves against outside threats,” stated Lavrov. “We reiterate our solidarity with, and respect for, the Venezuelan people against the illegitimate pressure by the United States and those who support such measures.”

The foreign minister added he supports a government backed dialogue as an alternative to uprisings and interventions.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, right, shakes hands with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a photo opportunity at the end of their meeting at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. Lavrov is visiting Venezuela in a show of support for Maduro as mounting pressure from Washington threatens to cut off the socialist leader from a key financial ally in Moscow. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

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Pentagon budget would hit Syria, Iran, Russia with tough sanctions

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Images show Iran building tunnel in Syria to store missiles

New images show Iran has nearly completed a tunnel in Syria to store missiles and weapons; Trey Yingst has the details.

The $738 billion Pentagon budget passed by Senate lawmakers Tuesday includes tough new sanctions on Syria, Iran and Russia for their alleged war crimes committed during Syria’s nearly decadelong civil war.

The Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act of 2019, passed by the GOP-majority Senate with an 86-6 vote, authorizes sanctions within six months on the Syrian government and anyone else who is “responsible for or complicit in human rights abuses committed against citizens of Syria or their family members.”

FILE: The Pentagon is seen from air from Air Force One. 

FILE: The Pentagon is seen from air from Air Force One. (AP)

The bill applies sanctions to supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military efforts in the country’s civil war, which includes Russia and Iran.

Muna Jondy, a Syrian-American immigration lawyer, told NPR she hopes the sanctions will help curb airstrikes on hospitals and civilian targets.

“Fifty hospitals have been bombed since April 2019,” she said. “There will be financial consequences.”

The bill is named after the code name of a Syrian police officer who documented torture victims in Syria from the outbreak of the war in early 2011 to his defection from the country in 2013.

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The bill was immediately proposed after the officer’s testimony before Congress but failed to gather momentum in several previous attempts led, in part, by Rep. Eliot Engel of New York.

“We’ve never had something this strongly passed into law by the Congress,” said Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., one of the original co-sponsors of the Caesar Bill who met with the Syrian defector earlier this year. “[T]here’s no doubt that can have an impact.”

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The bill now goes to President Trump for final authorization.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Trump administration sanctions Nicaraguan president’s son for alleged corruption, money laundering

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Fox News Flash top headlines for Dec. 12

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The son of Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega faced financial sanctions from the White House on Thursday, after the Trump administration reprimanded him for alleged corruption and money laundering.

Rafael Ortega incurred the wrath of the U.S. government officials after committing human rights violations and acts of financial deception, according to a statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

"This new action furthers the United States’ unwavering commitment to use all economic and diplomatic tools to hold the government of Daniel Ortega accountable for acts of corruption and unconscionable human rights violations, and to support the Nicaraguan people’s struggle for a return to democracy," Pompeo said in a statement.

Pompeo cited an executive order from President Trump as the foundation for freezing Rafael Ortega's assets and accused him of working in secret to launder ill-gotten gains through seemingly legitimate enterprises.

"Rafael Ortega is a key money manager for the Ortega family, working alongside the previously sanctioned Vice President of Nicaragua and First Lady Rosario Murillo," Pompeo continued.

DEMONSTRATORS REPORTED ARRESTED, WOUNDED IN NICARAGUA

"Rafael Ortega uses at least two companies under his control, Inversiones Zanzibar, S.A and Servicio De Proteccion Y Vigilancia, S.A., to generate profits, launder money, and gain preferential access to markets for the Ortega regime. He uses Inversiones Zanzibar to obscure the transfer of profits from Distribuidor Nicaraguense de Petroleo, also designated today, and as a front company to procure fuel stations in an attempt to obscure DNP’s ownership of such fuel stations," he said.

The State Department also alleged that Ortega granted non-competitive government contracts to his cronies in an effort to reward political allies and stifle healthy competition.

"The United States urges the Ortega regime to resume dialogue with the opposition and restore democracy in the country, thereby fulfilling its obligations under the Inter-American Democratic Charter," Pompeo said.

"Nicaragua’s painful political crisis can only be resolved through free and fair elections that credibly reflect the will of the Nicaraguan people and with full respect for their human rights and fundamental freedoms," he added.

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In July 2018, Daniel Ortega rejected calls for an early election in response to the country's political unrest. His tenure has been rocked by protests and accusations of dictatorial corruption. His current term is up in 2021.

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Mexican cartels subject to terrorist-level sanctions under new GOP-sponsored bill

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21 killed in gunfight between Mexican drug cartel, police near Texas border

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The Mexican cartels are coming under increased pressure from U.S. lawmakers.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is expected to introduce on Wednesday a bill to subject certain foreign criminal organizations – namely the cartels – to the same level of sanctions as terror groups. It comes after President Trump last month announced that plans were in motion to designate the drug-trafficking enterprises south of the border as foreign terrorist organizations, or FTOs.

MEXICAN PIRATES POSING GREATER RISK IN GULF OF MEXICO TO OIL WORKERS, TOURISTS

“Criminal organizations and drug cartels like the one responsible for last month’s attack in Mexico ought to be treated just like terrorist groups in the eyes of the U.S. government,” Cotton told Fox News in a statement, referring to the early November slaying of nine U.S. citizens from the Mormon community in the northern state of Sonora.

“This bill would help stop cartel violence by ensuring these groups, and anyone who helps them, face dire consequences for their actions,” he added.

Referred to as the Significant Transnational Criminal Organization Designation Act, the legislation – an amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act – enables the federal government to impose on the most significant Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) the same sanctions that apply to FTOs.

The sanctions include prohibiting organization members and their immediate families admission to the United States, freezing assets, and seeking civil and criminal penalties against individuals providing material assistance or resources to the organization.

Moreover, the bill mandates that the president submit a report to Congress with the government’s findings on the Nov. 4, 2019 attack on U.S. citizens in northern Mexico once the investigation is completed, including whether the organization responsible should be designated a significant TCO.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., participates in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, on Jan. 25, 2018 in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., participates in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, on Jan. 25, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The bill is sponsored by GOP Sens. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, John Cornyn of Texas, Ted Cruz of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Josh Hawley of Missouri, David Perdue of Georgia, Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

The act defines “membership in a significant transnational criminal organization” as direct members and/or their spouse and child. But it carves out an exemption for those “who did not know, or should not reasonably have known, that his or her spouse or parent was a member of a significant transnational criminal organization or whom the Attorney General has reasonable grounds to believe has renounced” to such membership.

Mexican national guardsmen patrol near Bavispe, at the Sonora-Chihuahua border, Mexico, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. 

Mexican national guardsmen patrol near Bavispe, at the Sonora-Chihuahua border, Mexico, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. (AP)

The bill comes at a time when cartel violence is spiking and the U.S. is battling unprecedented levels of drug-related deaths and overdoses. New Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf has also vowed to go after cartels and other gangs fueling chaos at the border.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if and when Trump's FTO designation on the cartels will come to fruition, a move that has generated both praise and criticism. Terrorist designations are handled by the U.S. State Department. Once a group has been slapped with such a designation, known members are prohibited from entering the country, and it is then illegal for those in the U.S. to intentionally provide support to them. Financial institutions are also barred from doing any type of business with the organization or its members.

“The FTO designation is an important step in a positive direction for U.S. national security. Too many Americans have died as the ruthless cartels have made billions by terrorizing communities and killing at unprecedented levels. It's clear President Trump always places the safety of Americans first,” noted Derek Maltz, a former special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration Special Operations Division in New York. “Designating the cartels as terrorists and implementing a focused operational plan will save a tremendous amount of lives.”

THE IMPACT OF DESIGNATING MEXICAN CARTELS A 'FOREIGN TERRORIST ORGANIZATION'

The FTO tag could also mean that an American in an inner-city gang selling street drugs that originated from south of the border could be prosecuted under anti-terrorism laws – possibly being given a life sentence.

A boy pauses as he speaks next to the coffins of Dawna Ray Langford, 43, and her sons Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 2, who were killed by drug cartel gunmen, during the funeral at a family cemetery in La Mora, Sonora state, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019.(AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

A boy pauses as he speaks next to the coffins of Dawna Ray Langford, 43, and her sons Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 2, who were killed by drug cartel gunmen, during the funeral at a family cemetery in La Mora, Sonora state, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019.(AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

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According to the latest annual assessment from the DEA, Mexican drug trafficking organizations pose the greatest crime threat to the U.S. and are continuing to “expand their control of the opioids market” in conjunction with the deadly spike in overdoses in recent years. However, officials have also lamented that “the scope of violence generated by Mexican crime groups has been difficult to measure due to restricted reporting by the government and attempts by groups to mislead the public.”

Moreover, Mexico’s homicide rate – routinely driven by cartel-connected violence – is on the path to reaching record levels this year, even higher than the record numbers set in 2018 when more than 30,000 people were killed.

Original Article