Sunday, June 21, 2020

Exclusive: Mexico freezes bank accounts of entities sanctioned by U.S.


MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The Mexican government’s financial crime department has frozen the bank accounts of companies and people blacklisted by the United States under accusations of having evaded the sanction regime imposed on Venezuela, its chief said on Friday. 

Santiago Nieto, chief of Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit, did not elaborate on details, but told Reuters that bank accounts of “all those listed” by the U.S Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control were frozen. 

Washington on Thursday blacklisted Mexico-based Libre Abordo and related firm Schlager Business Group, accusing them of helping Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s administration evade sanctions, in the first formal action by the U.S. Treasury against Mexican firms involved in trading Venezuelan oil. 

The United States also imposed sanctions on four firms linked to Mexicans Joaquin Leal Jimenez, Veronica Esparza and Olga Zepeda, which it accused of having cooperated with Libre Abordo, Schlager and businessman Alex Saab, arrested last week in Cape Verde, to evade sanctions. 

“Saab and Leal, working with Mexico-based Libre Abordo and Schlager Business Group, brokered the re-sale of over 30 million barrels of crude oil on behalf of (Venezuela’s state-run) PDVSA,” the Treasury said on Thursday.

Nieto said the accounts of Zepeda were among those that were frozen. 

Leal, Esparza and Zepeda could not immediately be reached for comment. 

Libre Abordo told Reuters on Friday it was working on its legal defense before the United States and Mexico. “We are convinced that this action will contribute to ratifying the legality of all our operations.” 

Libre Abordo and Schlager began receiving Venezuelan oil for resale in Asian markets in 2019 after signing an oil-for-food pact with Maduro’s government framed as a humanitarian provision.

While the companies supplied about 500 water trucks to Venezuela, 210,000 tons of corn originally included in the pact were not delivered, Libre Abordo said, adding that very low oil prices modified a schedule agreed by the parties. 

Libre Abordo announced bankruptcy in May after losing $90 million amid what it called “excessive” U.S. pressure. The trade with Venezuela got suspended. 

Reporting by Diego Ore; additional reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez; writing by Marianna Parraga; editing by Leslie Adler

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