Jan. 9 (UPI) — The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control on Tuesday sanctioned seven Venezuelan individuals, including television and insurance tycoon Raul Gorrin, for allegedly taking part in a currency exchange scheme that resulted in $2.4 billion in earnings.
“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 sanctions center on Gorrin’s alleged bribery to gain favorable exchange rates of Bolivars for U.S. currency, and subsequent efforts to hide assets bought with illegally obtained funds in the name of figureheads.
“As a result of this action, all property and interests in property of those designated today subject to or transiting U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them,” a Treasury release said.
Gorrin is the owner of Globovision television station in Venezuela, as well as of La Vitalicia insurance company. He bought the television station about five years ago in a controversial transaction that turned the broadcaster’s government coverage from critical to very supportive.
Other people sanctioned are former Venezuelan National Treasurer Claudia Diaz, and her husband Adrian Velasquez, not only for allegedly taking bribes from the 50-year-old Gorrin, but also for allegedly serving as stand-in owners of luxury real estate property. Diaz and Velasquez are under house arrest in Spain.
Gustavo Perdomo, a business partner and brother-in-law of Gorrin, was accused of holding property on behalf of Gorrin. Aria Perdomo, wife of Gorrin, and Mayela Tarascio-Perez, wife of Perdomo, were also sanctioned, also for allegedly being stand-in owners of Gorrin’s property.
Leonardo Gonzalez was sanctioned for allegedly having a role in the corruption scheme and on suspicion he held under his name property bought for other individuals with corruption proceedings.
Two Venezuelan National Treasurers, Diaz and Alejandro Andrade, were named by the U.S. Treasury as having made the bribery scheme possible. Andrade was sentenced by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida on November 27, 2018, to 10 years in prison for accepting over $1 billion in bribes.
Andrade, who lived in a Palm Beach County mansion with marble floors, swimming pool and purebred horses until late last year, was allowed to post bond in November, and authorities agreed he did not have to serve his prison term until February.
He lived in the U.S. since 2004 and has cooperated with authorities to help build a case against Gorrin.
Gorrin is facing charges in South Florida related to the bribery scheme and money laundering through U.S. real estate assets.
The Treasury Department also on Tuesday blocked nearly two dozen companies, including Globovision and La Vitalicia, as well as several investment companies registered either in Venezuela, Delaware, Miami or New York. A Dassault Mystere Falcon 50EX private jet under the name of Perdomo was also blocked.
There are some exemptions for “certain transactions” by Globovision for up to a year so that the company can continue operating, the Treasury Department said.
The “action continues to expose endemic corruption at the highest levels of the Venezuelan government as it prepares for Nicolas Maduro‘s illegitimate inauguration,” the Treasury Department said.
According to a report on the Globovision website, Maduro will be sworn-in as president Thursday at 10 a.m. local Venezuelan time.
Maduro tweeted Tuesday that “Venezuela has a wide international backing and a conscious population to defeat economic persecution and aggression to the Motherland. They will not stop our march to prosperity.”
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was elected to a second six-year term last May after voting dates were moved twice. About a quarter of the population voted, the lowest turnout in Venezuelan history.
Several Venezuelan organizations, the United States, the European Union and the Organization of American States rejected the results — as other nations like China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Syria recognized Maduro’s election as legitimate.
Last year, Venezuela became Latin America’s most violent country, with more than 23,000 violent deaths — of which 7,523 occurred as citizens resisted authority, according to a tally from a non-government organization. A chaotic economic situation has created shortages of food and medicine and has contributed to the exodus of 3 million Venezuelans in recent years, according to the United Nations.