US says it sanctions Venezuelans in currency scheme
WASHINGTON/CARACAS: The United States imposed sanctions on Tuesday that target a Venezuelan currency exchange network scheme that siphoned billions of dollars to corrupt insiders of the Venezuelan government, the U.S. Treasury Department said.
Seven individuals involved include a former Venezuelan treasurer, Claudia Diaz, and television mogul Raul Antonio Gorrin, who bribed the Venezuelan Treasury in order to conduct illegal foreign exchange operations, according to the U.S. Treasury.
"Venezuelan regime insiders have plundered billions of dollars from Venezuela while the Venezuelan people suffer. Treasury is targeting this currency exchange network which was another illicit scheme that the Venezuelan regime had long used to steal from its people," Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
The U.S. Treasury said the former Venezuelan officials and other individuals used favorable foreign exchange transactions through brokerage firms controlled by Gorrin and among very few that were approved by the South American country's treasury. The individuals concealed their profits in U.S. and European bank accounts and investments, it said.
Venezuela's Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The sanctions are Washington's latest move against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, which is widely criticized for economic collapse and undermining democracy.
The United States imposed sanctions on Maduro's wife in September as President Donald Trump urged members of the United Nations to support a "restoration of democracy" in the oncebooming country, a member of OPEC.
The sanctions imposed on Tuesday apply to people involved in the corrupt system within Venezuela's treasury since 2008, the U.S. Treasury said.
The country's treasurer before Diaz, Alejandro Andrade, was sentenced by a U.S. District Court in Florida in November to 10 years in prison for accepting more than $1 billion in bribes as part of the scheme.
Andrade, who ran the treasury for four years under late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, received properties, platinum and gold Rolex watches and Mercedes Benz vehicles thanks to the scheme, according to documents from the Southern District of Florida court.
He was helped by Gorrin, owner of television station Globovision, who has been charged with paying bribes to Andrade and others as well as helping to launder the payments, according to the documents unsealed in November.
The cases are part of a broad effort by U.S. federal prosecutors to crack down on the use of the U.S. financial system to launder proceeds from corruption in the crisis-stricken country that is suffering from hyperinflation.
The U.S. Treasury statement cited 23 groups as being part of the scheme, including Globovision Tele in Caracas and Miami, Magus Holdings in Miami, Tindaya Properties in New York, Planet 2 Reaching Inc and Posh 8 Dynamic Inc, both of Delaware.
Maduro has said little about criminal proceedings against former Venezuelan officials, but says the United States is seeking to undermine his government through financial sanctions.
He is due to be inaugurated for his second term on Thursday.