26 Jul 2019
AP — The U.S. on Thursday imposed sanctions on three stepsons of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, accusing them of forming part of a sophisticated scheme that stole hundreds of millions in dollars from food import contracts at a time of widespread hunger in the crisis-wracked South American nation.
The network allegedly was run by Alex Saab, an obscure Colombian businessman who came onto the radar of U.S. authorities a few years ago after amassing a large number of contracts with Maduro’s socialist government. In a separate action Thursday, federal prosecutors in Miami indicted Saab and a business partner on money laundering charges connected to an alleged bribery scheme to develop low-income housing for the Venezuelan government that was never built.
The U.S. Treasury Department alleges Saab utilized a network of shell companies spanning the globe — the UAE, Turkey, Hong Kong, Panama, Colombia and Mexico — to hide huge profits from no-bid, overvalued contracts obtained through bribes and kickbacks.
“Saab engaged with Maduro insiders to run a wide-scale corruption network they callously used to exploit Venezuela’s starving population,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “They use food as a form of social control, to reward political supporters and punish opponents, all the while pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars through a number of fraudulent schemes.”
Some of Saab’s contracts were allegedly obtained by paying bribes to Yoswal, Yosser and Walter Flores, the children of first lady Cilia Flores from a previous relationship. The three men, commonly known as Los Chamos — Venezuelan slang for “the kids” — are also under investigation by prosecutors in Miami for allegedly forming part of an scheme to siphon $1.2 billion from Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, two people familiar with the U.S. investigation told The Associated Press.
As the Trump administration seeks to regain momentum in its faltering campaign to oust Maduro and install opposition leader Juan Guaidó, it is increasingly going after family members of top officials backing the embattled leader and suspected of corruption. Last month, it froze the assets of Nicolas Maduro Jr., a member of the rubber-stamping constitutional assembly.
In total, 10 individuals were blocked from doing business in the U.S. by Thursday’s actions, including Saab, his fellow Colombian partner Alvaro Pulido and several of their family members, as well as Maduro’s stepsons.
By Joshua Goodman and Luis Alonso Lugo, AP, 25 July 2019
Read more at the Associated Press
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