Wednesday, March 11, 2015

US targets Andorra bank with laundering PdV funds

US targets Andorra bank with laundering PdV funds
11 Mar 2015, 5.18 pm GMT

Caracas, 11 March (Argus) — The US Treasury Department yesterday charged an Andorra-based bank of laundering around $2bn siphoned off of Venezuela´s state-owned oil company PdV.

The accusation by the department´s financial crimes enforcement network (FinCEN) that a senior manager at Banca Privada d'Andorra (BPA) laundered the funds comes amid a wider escalation of tension between Washington and Caracas.

The Venezuelan foreign ministry and PdV have not commented on the accusation.

FinCen named BPA "a foreign financial institution of primary money laundering concern" under the US Patriot Act "based on information indicating that, for several years, high-level managers at BPA have knowingly facilitated transactions on behalf of third–party money launderers acting on behalf of transnational criminal organizations."

FinCEN also accused the bank of laundering money for Russian and Chinese organized crime groups.

The money-laundering charge followed the 9 March issuance of a US executive order that implements and expands US sanctions on senior Venezuelan government officials for human rights violations and corruption.

The sanctions revoke the US visas of the officials and freeze their US assets. Around 60 Venezuelan officials have been targeted under the sanctions.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro swiftly lambasted the new order, and named two of seven targeted officials as cabinet ministers. Caracas has also imposed a new visa requirement for US citizens visiting Venezuela, and ordered the curtailment of US diplomatic staff.

Some US companies with technical service contracts with PdV are pulling US employees out of Venezuela until the visa rules are clarified.

The National Andorran Finance Institute (INAF), the Spanish government entity that oversees the financial sector in Andorra, yesterday intervened on behalf of BPA and its subsidiary Banco de Madrid to guarantee operations.

In one of his now-nightly television broadcasts, Maduro yesterday requested that the national assembly grant him special powers, hinting that he may use them to suspend constitutional guarantees.

The assembly, which is controlled by the ruling PSUV party, is likely to grant the special powers today.

Venezuela´s oil-based economy is expected to contract by 7pc in 2015. Annual inflation is approaching triple digits, and shortages of basic goods are widespread.

Venezuela exported 680,000 b/d to the US in December 2014, down from 852,000 b/d in July 2014, according to most recent data from the US Energy Information Administration.

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