The United States has imposed sanctions on a Venezuelan media magnate close to President Nicolas Maduro‘s government for allegedly running a currency exchange network it said siphoned $2.4bn to corrupt government insiders.
The US Treasury Department made the announcement on Tuesday, giving Raul Gorrin one year to divest his shares in Globovision, Venezuela‘s largest private broadcaster.
“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,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
“The United States remains committed to holding accountable those responsible for Venezuela’s tragic decline, and will continue to use diplomatic and economic tools to support the Venezuelan people’s efforts to restore their democracy,” he added.
The Treasury cited seven people and 23 groups as being part of the scheme, including former Venezuelan treasurer Claudia Diaz Guillen, who served as a nurse to the country’s late leader Hugo Chavez for eight years.
Prosecutors in Miami indicted Gorrin last year on charges of bribing officials in Venezuela’s treasury for contracts to buy dollars at the highly-distorted official exchange rate.
He then would allegedly resell the hard currency on the black market for huge gains.
Pressure mounts ahead of inauguration
The sanctions come as the international community is increasing pressure on Venezuela’s government ahead of Maduro’s inauguration on Thursday.
The socialist leader was re-elected in May in a controversial poll largely-boycotted by the opposition and condemned by many countries as illegitimate.
On Saturday, a dozen Latin American countries and Canada said they would not recognise Maduro’s new mandate, urging him to cede power to the opposition-controlled National Assembly until new elections could be held.
Maduro hit back the following day, saying in a tweet that the Venezuelan people had given “legitimacy” to his administration “with their vote”.
The inauguration comes as sky-high inflation continues to plague Venezuela, causing food and medical shortages and forcing millions to flee the country.
Washington has imposed several rounds of sanctions against Venezuela since Maduro’s re-election. Maduro accuses the US and others of waging and economic war against Venezuela.
On Tuesday, Venezuela launched a legal challenge at the World Trade Organization (WTO) aimed at four previous rounds of US sanctions.
In the complaint, Caracas accused the US of trying “to isolate Venezuela economically”.
The most recent sanctions were not mentioned in the complaint.