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Venezuela's state oil firm 'transferred millions of euros to Bulgarian bank accounts'

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By Sandrine Amiel  with Reuters
Oil operations in Caracas, January 2019
Oil operations in Caracas, January 2019   -   Copyright  REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Bulgarian authorities have launched an investigation into suspected money laundering after blocking millions of euros of transfers from Venezuela's state-run oil company PDVSA to a local bank.

What we know so far

Acting on a tip-off from the US, Bulgaria's security services were checking accounts held at a small bank by a man who had several citizenships, including a Bulgarian one, Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov said on Wednesday.

"We have established that there were money transfers from Venezuela, namely from its state oil company to these accounts," Tsatsarov told reporters.

"All measures have been taken so that the funds that are still in the accounts, which are not in small amounts, will be fully under our control and not leave the country on false grounds."

There are millions of euros in the accounts, according to the head of the State National Security Agency, Dimitar Georgiev, who said the Bulgarian central bank was cooperating in the process.

Prosecutors will be looking at all the transfers into and out of these accounts before deciding whether to raise money laundering charges, Tsatsarov said, adding that the bank itself was not under suspicion.

"This was a real success for our cooperation with Bulgaria, between American law enforcement agencies and Bulgarian law enforcement agencies, and in this case we worked very quickly when we got the information to share it with Bulgaria, " US Ambassador Eric Rubin told Euronews.

Political implications

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself president of the country three weeks ago, arguing that Nicolas Maduro's re-election last year was a sham.

The US and most EU countries, including Bulgaria, have recognised Guaido as the legitimate head of state, but Maduro retains control of state institutions as well as the Venezuelan oil industry.

"We are determined to work with our partners in the EU and around the world to help prevent this kind of thing, to help prevent the people of Venezuela from being denied their future and to help put pressure to achieve a peaceful and democratic outcome in Venezuela," Rubin said.

PDVSA is looking to increase exports to places like India as US sanctions, designed to cut off the flow of foreign currency to Maduro's government, hamper its deliveries to the US and Europe, Reuters reports.

Bulgarian legal expert Radosveta Vassileva told Euronews it was surprising that the millions transferred to a small bank remained unnoticed by her country's authorities until now.

"Multiple questions arise about the efficiency of Bulgarian secret services and the anti-money laundering protocols in the bank," Vassileva said.

"Bulgaria itself has huge problems with corruption — it has been ranked as the most corrupt EU member by Transparency International for years."