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Banesco Bank branch in Maracaibo, Venezuela
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/H. Matheus

Venezuela seizes control of private bank, arrests top execs

May 4, 2018

The Venezuelan government blames Banesco executives for exacerbating the country's hyperinflation and collapse of the national currency. Banesco's chief denounced the move as "disproportionate" and "unjust."


The government of Venezuela announced on Thursday the arrest of 11 executives of the nation's leading private bank, Banesco, for alleged "attacks" against the country's struggling currency.

Shortly after the arrests, the government announced that the state would intervene in the bank's activities for a period of 90 days, in order to "guarantee the full functioning and continuation of its services."

Maduro's government explained that the takeover was necessary to "protect the people" and "clean up" all the illicit activity that was taking place in the bank.

The arrests are the latest strike by Nicolas Maduro's government against the private sector, as the country endures a continuing economic crisis, crippling hyper-inflation and the steady collapse of the national currency,the Bolivar.

Read more: Venezuelans launch new currencies amid economic crisis

Maduro, who is running for a second term in the upcoming presidential election on May 20, has blamed Venezuela's woes on what he calls an "economic war," while critics blame his government's failed socialist policies and mismanagement.

Read more: EU threatens sanctions ahead of Venezuela vote

Venezuela's Chief Prosecutor, Tarek William Saab, announced the arrests on television, saying that the executives were being targeted for "a series of irregularities, for aiding and concealing attacks against the Venezuelan currency with the aim of demolishing the Venezuelan currency."

Among those arrested were Banesco CEO Oscar Doval, four vice-presidents, a legal consultant, a director, two managers and two other bank officials, Saab said.

Financial 'mafias'

The Banesco executives are being targeted as part of a wider probe that began last week to investigate the alleged banking "mafias," which the government accuses of actively exacerbating inflation, increasing the shortage of basic products and weakening the Bolivar through the movement of currency abroad and dollar speculation on the black market. All of this, Maduro's government claims, is done to undermine and drain support from the socialist president.

Read more: Venezuela seeks to restructure debt as economy teeters on insolvency

Venezuela operates under a fixed currency exchange rate, which was established by the late president Hugo Chavez 15 years ago. Today, the black market value of the Bolivar is trading 12 times lower than the Venezuelan Central Bank's established rate. Maduro accuses the financial "mafias" of fixing the black market rate themselves.

Creative uses for a worthless currency

Banesco: detentions 'unjust'

Banesco President Juan Carlos Escotet took to Twitter to deliver a statement defending the financial institution, which also operates internationally with branches in the US, Spain, Panama and the Dominican Republic.

Read more: Venezuelans facing economic crisis cross border to secure cash lifelines

Escotet reassured the public that the bank had always operated within the confines of the law. Escotet announced that he would be traveling back to Venezuela to attempt to "clear up" the matter with the government and lend support to the bank's executives who, in his view, were being "unjustly" held.

Banesco's chief denounced the "disproportionate" manner in which the government was handling the case and said his institution was never informed of an investigation against it. Escotet promised to use any legal recourse at his disposal to resolve the matter.

jcg/aw (EFE, AP, Reuters)

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