U.S. sanctions Venezuelan oil man close to Maduro and regime’s opposition leader

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Antonio Maria Delgado, Jay Weaver
·3 min read
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The federal government Tuesday sanctioned Venezuelan businessman Francisco D’Agostino for allegedly helping President Nicolás Maduro’s regime evade a U.S. crackdown on the South American country’s oil exports.

The Department of Treasury sanctions include blocking D’Agostino’s assets in the United States and forbidding anyone in the country from doing business with him or his companies.

Despite his alleged role as a broker for Venezuela’s oil sector controlled by Maduro, D’Agostino is the brother-in-law of a top opposition leader, Henry Ramos Allup, who is seeking to overthrow his government. D’Agostino’s sister, Diana, is married to Allup, a leader of one of the oldest and largest opposition parties in Venezuela, Acción Democrática.

The links between D’Agostino and the Maduro regime and other alleged partners have been used by political adversaries to try to discredit Allup.

The Department of Treasury accused D’Agostino of collaborating with jailed Colombian businessman Alex Saab, who is awaiting extradition in Cape Verde on money laundering charges in Miami. Together, they and other associates coordinated the sale of Venezuelan crude on behalf of Petróleos de Venezuela through a Mexican network, U.S. authorities said.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control also sanctioned businessmen Joaquin Leal Jimenez, Alessandro Bazzoni and Philipp Paul Vartan Apikian, as well as 14 companies and six ships, for allegedly participating alongside D’Agostino in a network used by Maduro to circumvent continuing U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan oil.

“D’Agostino was designated today for operating in the oil sector of the Venezuelan economy and because he has materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, PDVSA,” The Treasury Department said in a press release.

“D’Agostino, a dual Spanish-Venezuelan citizen, worked with Saab, Leal, and Bazzoni to coordinate the purchase and sale of Venezuelan-origin crude oil on behalf of PDVSA. D’Agostino has been involved in the Venezuelan oil sector since at least 2012 and has partnered with Bazzoni and others on multiple business ventures with PDVSA,” it added.

The U.S. sanctions freeze any assets of the designated persons under U.S. jurisdiction and forbid any U.S. person or company from conducting any financial transaction with them.

The U.S. Department accused those sanctioned on Tuesday of participating in a Mexican network organized by Saab to help Maduro’s oil minister, Tareck El Aissami, evade sanctions against Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA.

The U.S. had previously sanctioned three individuals and eight companies from Mexico that formed part of the same oil-brokering network.

At the time, the Treasury Department said that Saab along with his partners had been operating the clandestine network and employed at one point a fraudulent oil-for-food exchange program that never provided food for needy Venezuelans.

Saab, who is accused by federal prosecutors in Miami of laundering $350 million from embezzled Venezuelan state funds, has been detained since July in Cape Verde where he is fighting U.S. efforts to extradite him.

Saab is the latest fugitive to be arrested in connection with a series of corruption and money-laundering cases filed in the United States that accuse dozens of current and former Venezuelan officials, business people and lawyers of stealing billions of dollars from Venezuela’s government and its state-run oil company, PDVSA.

Over the past five years, Miami prosecutors and Homeland Security Investigations have been investigating D’Agostino’s business partners, Alejandro Betancourt and his cousin, Francisco Convit. They were partners with D’Agostino in Derwick Associates, a company that obtained billions of dollars in energy-related contracts from the Venezuelan regime.

Of the three, Convit is the only one who has been indicted in Miami federal court. Betancourt’s lawyers say he has committed no wrongdoing. Convit’s attorney has declined to comment.

It is not clear who is representing D’Agostino in the ongoing federal investigation.