United States sanctions Maduro's three stepsons for profiting from emergency food program

U.S. sanctions target food subsidy scam in Venezuela charges businessman

U.S. sanctions target food subsidy scam in Venezuela charges businessman

The United States has threatened Russian Federation with new sanctions over its support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro shortly after announcing punitive measures against several individuals and groups for their involvement in an emergency food program.

The new restrictions, announced on Friday, target Mr Maduro's stepsons Walter Jacob Gavidia Flores, Yosser Daniel Gavidia and Yoswal Alexander Gavidia Flores, whom the United States says collaborated with Colombian businessman Alex Nain Saab Moran and his business partner Alvaro Pulido to profit off importing emergency food into the country as it struggled with rising malnutrition.

"What Treasury has described today is an extraordinarily elaborate network, whose objective is to steal food from the poorest Venezuelans and build up profits for regime members and their families", a senior U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

Mnuchin said the program, called Local Committees for Supply and Production, or CLAP, an acronym of its Spanish name, was used by the corruption network to benefit Maduro and his family at the cost of Venezuela.

"[Authorities] use food as a form of social control, to reward political supporters and punish opponents, all the while pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars through a number of fraudulent schemes".

"Not even with a million sanctions will CLAP stop", he said, adding that the food "belongs to the Venezuelan people". According to a Human Rights Watch report, 80 percent of households are food insecure, two-thirds of its population had reported losing weight and nearly 12 percent was undernourished.

Created by Nicolas Maduro in 2016, CLAP's objective was to provide subsidized food ration boxes to poor Venezuelans, according to the Treasury.

Saab bribed Maduro's three stepsons to win no-bid, overvalued government contracts, said Sigal Mandelker, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

In 2016, Mr Saab allegedly set up a firm to acquire food outside Venezuela and ship it to the country.

"Under Maduro's watch, Saab reaped substantial profits and imported only a fraction of the food needed for the CLAP program".

Saab and his main business partner were also charged Thursday by US prosecutors in an eight-count criminal indictment, accusing them of laundering the proceeds of a foreign bribery scheme relating to a Venezuelan government-issued housing contract. USA officials believe he is hiding in Caracas, having ditched his globe-trotting lifestyle, including frequent trips on a private jet to an apartment in Paris and his family's ancestral homeland of Lebanon.

The U.S. has sanctioned more than 100 Venezuelan government officials and insiders who have been accused of corruption, human rights violations and drug trafficking.

"Since 2016, ... Saab and Pulido have made hundreds of millions of dollars from the profits of this corrupt scheme", the Treasury stated.

Richard Diaz, a lawyer for Saab in Miami, didn't immediately reply to a request for comment.