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Venezuelan authorities arrest bankers for attempting to ‘demolish’ the economy

VENEZUELAN authorities have arrested 11 bankers over attacks on the country’s currency aimed at “demolishing” the economy before elections later this month.

Bosses at Banesco, Venezuela’s leading private bank, were detained yesterday as part of the Hands of Paper operation, which is investigating groups alleged to be sabotaging the economy by taking cash abroad and illegally exchanging money.

The arrests were made the day after more than 1,000 bank accounts were blocked for irregularities following a probe into illegal currency exchanges.

Vice-President Tareck El Aissami said that 90 per cent of the accounts were held by Banesco, which he accused of “criminal fixation of the dollar.”

He warned that the country faces a “major criminal operation which aims to leave Venezuelan families without money, extracting our monetary base to Colombia, and attempts to create a speculative market rate to destabilise and boycott the Venezuelan financial system.”

Mr El Aissami accused “organised crime mafias” of pushing the illegal dollar exchange rate to hurt the national economy and said the government was setting up exchange houses so that families could exchange currency legally.

In a live televised address, Chief Prosecutor Tarek Saab said: “We have determined the presumed responsibility for a series of irregularities, for aiding and concealing attacks against the Venezuelan currency with the aim of demolishing the Venezuelan currency.”

He sought to reassure people with accounts at Banesco and other banks, saying that the operation was “surgical” — aimed at removing corrupt elements without affecting the banks’ overall functions.

“It is only going to solve a criminal action outside the law, which in this case we have determined,” Mr Saab said.

In an attempt to boost the economy, President Nicolas Maduro announced that government would open a cryptocurrency bank which will support projects for young Venezuelans.

The digital bank will be boosted by an initial 20 million petros, Venezuela’s national cryptocurrency that was launched in February, Mr Maduro announced during a visit to a social programme for young people in the state of Aragua.

Venezuelans will go to the polls on May 20 to vote in presidential, regional and municipal elections.

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