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U.S. sanctions target food subsidy scam in Venezuela

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The U.S. on Thursday imposed sanctions on 10 people and 13 groups in a Venezuelan food subsidy scheme that lined the pockets of President Nicolas Maduro, his stepsons and others, the U.S. Treasury said.

U.S. Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said this in a statement.

The department said Colombian national Alex Nain Saab orchestrated a vast corruption network for food imports and distribution in Venezuela.

He profited from overvalued contracts, including the government’s food subsidy programme.

“Alex Saab engaged with Maduro insiders to run a wide-scale corruption network they callously used to exploit Venezuela’s starving population,” Mnuchin said in a statement.

“Treasury is targeting those behind Maduro’s sophisticated corruption schemes, as well as the global network of shell companies that profit from” the country’s military-controlled food distribution programme, he said.

The department said Saab became involved with the food subsidy programme in 2016, when he set up a corporate structure to acquire food outside the country and ship it to Venezuela.

“Saab reaped profits and imported only a fraction of the food needed for the subsidy program.

“Treasury alleged the individuals hit by sanctions had enriched themselves through government contracts, including Maduro’s stepsons Walter, Yosser and Yoswal Gavidia.

“Saab also began in 2018 to help the Venezuelan government liquidate gold mined in Venezuela and convert it into foreign currency.

“The gold was then flown to destinations including Turkey and the United Arab Emirates,” Treasury said.

The U.S. imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan gold sector in 2018.

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