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U.S. sanctions target food subsidy scam in Venezuela

U.S. sanctions target food subsidy scam in Venezuela
FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with military high command members in Caracas, Venezuela July 24, 2019. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS Copyright HANDOUT(Reuters)
Copyright HANDOUT(Reuters)
By Reuters
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States imposed sanctions on Thursday on 10 people and 13 groups in a food subsidy scheme that lined the pockets of leader Nicolas Maduro, his stepsons and others while ordinary Venezuelans suffer food shortages, the U.S. Treasury said.

The department said Colombian national Alex Nain Saab orchestrated a vast corruption network for food imports and distribution in Venezuela. He profited from overvalued contracts, including the government's food subsidy programme.

Saab bribed Maduro's three stepsons to win no-bid, overvalued government contracts, the Treasury said.

"Alex Saab engaged with Maduro insiders to run a wide-scale corruption network they callously used to exploit Venezuela’s starving population," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. 

"Treasury is targeting those behind Maduro's sophisticated corruption schemes, as well as the global network of shell companies that profit from" the country's military-controlled food distribution programme, he said.

The department said Saab became involved with the food subsidy programme in 2016, when he set up a corporate structure to acquire and assemble the food outside the country and ship it to Venezuela.

"Saab reaped substantial profits and imported only a fraction of the food needed for the CLAP programme," it said.

Treasury said the individuals sanctioned enriched themsleves through government contracts, including Maduro stepsons Walter, Yosser and Yoswal Gavidia.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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