(corrects word "gouging," not "gauging" in first paragraph)
(Adds details, background)
CARACAS Jan 17 Venezuela's socialist President
Hugo Chavez on Sunday nationalized a chain of supermarkets
controlled by France's Casino (CASP.PA) on charges of price
gouging after the government devalued the bolivar currency.
"Because of multiple violations of Venezuelan laws the
Exito chain will now belong to the republic, there is no way
back," Chavez said on his weekly television show.
In his 11 years in office, Chavez has nationalized large
swathes of the economy, including major oil projects along with
electricity and telecommunications companies.
The leader who calls Cuba's Fidel Castro a mentor has
recently declared himself a Marxist and wants to build a
socialist society in one of the world's top oil exporters.
He said the Exito supermarkets had increased prices without
justification. Exito has stores in Caracas and several other
Chavez devalued the bolivar on Jan. 8 to boost government
finances and revitalize the recession-hit economy, but risks
boosting already high inflation.
Aware a price surge could anger his mostly poor supporters,
Chavez ordered troops to monitor shopping districts.
Authorities had already temporarily closed stores belonging to
the supermarket chain on charges of price gouging.
The stores are run by Colombian retailer Alamcenes Exito
IMI.CN, which belongs to Casino.
Chavez said legal reforms were under way to take over
companies accused of speculation. He said those reforms will
have to be finalized to complete the nationalization of Exito.
(Reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez; Writing by Frank Jack
Daniel; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)