Give info about money laundering suspects: Chavez to US

Chavez seeks crack down on currency trading that he blames for rising inflation.

Caracas: Venezuela will ask US authorities to hand over information about brokers suspected of laundering money through the South American nation`s parallel currency market, President Hugo Chavez said on Wednesday.

Chavez referred to a case in which 16 people were indicted in the United States on charges of laundering at least USD 7 million in drug trafficking profits through exchanges of Venezuelan currency for US dollars.

Chavez said he believes some of the suspects are Venezuelans, and he suggested some could be linked to the dozens of brokerage firms in Venezuela that have been accused of violating currency trading regulations.

"Have them give us their names," Chavez instructed his foreign minister during a televised speech. "There are no untouchables here."

On Tuesday, Venezuelan regulators took over management at 31 of the country`s 107 brokerage companies while investigating what officials say may be illegal currency-trading practices as well as money laundering and management problems.

The president of the securities commission, Tomas Sanchez, said in remarks published on Wednesday by the newspaper El Universal that officials believe there has been significant money laundering and "speculative operations" through bond trading. Aides to Sanchez confirmed the statements.

Authorities temporarily halted trading of government bonds on Tuesday and said they would seek to control currency exchange rates by setting a range of permitted prices in the bond market.

Chavez is seeking to crack down on currency trading that he blames for soaring inflation and the decline in the value of Venezuela`s currency, the bolivar, on the previously unregulated bond market.

Venezuela maintains strict currency controls and sets official exchange rates, but another route for trading currency has been the bond market, where the bolivar has recently fetched about half the official rate of 4.30 to the dollar for nonessential goods.

In the past two weeks, authorities have intervened in and raided 13 other brokerages on suspicion of irregularities involving currency trading. Executives at the affected companies have not responded publicly to the measures.

During an evening speech, Chavez singled out one of the brokerages that have been seized — Positiva Sociedad de Corretaje — as an example of what the government alleges are shady business practices of some firms.

Chavez said the brokerage "made multimillion-dollar buying and selling operations of bonds since January 01, 2010, without any legal or financial backing of the money, and without state control."

The firm`s manager, Pedro Ramin, has been arrested, Chavez said.

Bureau Report