The United States imposed sanctions Tuesday on seven Venezuelans including the owner of news network Globovision for allegedly plundering billions of dollars from the crisis-hit country through black-market currency exchanges.
Days before President Nicolas Maduro is to be sworn in for a new term after a controversial re-election, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin vowed to target methods employed by the government "to steal from its people".
"Our actions against this corrupt currency exchange network expose yet another deplorable practice that Venezuela regime insiders have used to benefit themselves at the expense of the Venezuelan people," 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."
According to the Treasury Department, the sanctioned Venezuelans -- faced with a shortfall in their bolivar currency needed to fund government projects -- went to black-market exchange houses to sell dollars at a higher than official rate.
The scheme generated more than USD 2.4 billion in proceeds, which went to government-approved exchange houses and ultimately to the officials themselves, who stashed the money in US and European bank accounts and investments, the Treasury Department said.
The Treasury Department froze all property and assets of the sanctioned Venezuelans inside the United States, with penalties for financial transactions involving them.
It granted an exemption for Globovision to maintain operations for at least one year.
Globovision was the last Venezuelan network aligned with the opposition until its 2013 buyout by investors sympathetic to Maduro and his late predecessor Hugo Chavez.
Raul Gorrin Belisario, the owner of Globovision, has already been charged in a US court for allegedly bribing Venezuelan officials and embezzling funds totalling more than USD 1 billion.
Also freshly sanctioned was Claudia Patricia Diaz Guillen, who served as Venezuela's national treasurer from 2011 to 2013.
Inflation is expected to soar to 10 million percent in 2019, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Maduro won a new six-year term in a May election marred by irregularities.
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