Maduro orders probe of suspected graft among Panama-based Venezuelans

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (L) in Caracas on April 13, 2015

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (L) in Caracas on April 13, 2015 (AFP Photo/Federico Parra)

Caracas (AFP) - President Nicolas Maduro said he had launched a probe into reports of Panama-based Venezuelans who may have illegally obtained wealth.

Maduro, whose socialist government is in economic crisis amid historically low oil prices, said on Tuesday, on his television show "In Touch with Maduro" that he suspects many may have settled in Panama with laundered money or breaking his rules aimed at stemming currency flight.

"I have formed a special committee to investigate money laundering and currency flight (of US dollars), given the Panama situation," said Maduro, who attended a regional summit in Panama City over the weekend.

He said many people approached him during his visit to the nearby Central American nation and said Panama was full of Venezuelan expats living the high life.

"There have been illegally obtained fortunes, built with the dollars that belong to the Venezuelan people, and a whole sort of mafia has been built up around certain private banks and bankers," Maduro charged.

Thousands of Venezuelans have emigrated as Maduro and his predecessor aligned their elected government with Cuba, the region's only one-party Communist country.

At the 35-nation Summit of the Americas, Maduro demanded that US President Barack Obama lift a sanctions order against Venezuelan officials that describes Caracas as a threat to US national security.

The sanctions follow earlier accusations from Maduro, who has charged Washington with backing an opposition plot to overthrow him in a coup that he says would have involved bombing the presidential palace.

The US government has dismissed the charges as baseless.