US sanctions 2 Venezuelan officials for selling passports
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration imposed sanctions Monday on both the former and the current director of the Venezuelan government’s office of identification, accusing them of receiving kickbacks involving the sale of passports.
The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control made the designations on both Gustavo Adolfo Vizcaíno Gil and his predecessor, Juan Carlos Dugarte Padron, on International Anti-Corruption Day.
Other entities in Cambodia, China, Latvia and Serbia were also designated Monday.
“Corruption deprives people of their countries’ resources, basic essential services, and economic opportunities, while it enriches a select few and facilitates environmental destruction, political instability, and conflict,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said.
The designation announcement said that under Vizcaino’s leadership, the identification department sold Venezuelan passports to non-Venezuelan citizens for thousands of dollars each. Vizcaino was director general of the office from April 2016 until June 2018, when Dugarte replaced him.
A Treasury department official described the operation as a “large corruption scheme” in which thousand of passports were sold.
The official, who insisted on not being quoted by name because they were not authorized to talk to reporters, said the cooperation from members of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly allowed investigators to identify bank accounts associated with Vizcaíno and Dugarte, both in Venezuela and overseas.
The official said the sale of passports to non-Venezuelans is a matter of concern because U.S. authorities know members of the Islamic militant group Hezbollah possess Venezuelan passports, though the official stressed that there is no evidence the two men designated Monday provided Hezbollah with Venezuelan passports.
As a result of the U.S. action, any assets of the two designated Venezuelan officials in U.S. territory will be frozen.
The U.S. has imposed sanctions on dozens of officials loyal to Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolas Maduro, whose 2018 re-election has been deemed fraudulent by Washington and at least 50 other countries.
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