Nicaragua nationalizes major gas station chain linked to Ortega

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Nicaragua’s National Assembly on Saturday approved nationalizing a major gas station company two days after the United States imposed sanctions on it for allegedly being used by President Daniel Ortega’s family to finance and launder money for the government.

The company, Distribuidor Nicaraguense de Petroleo (DNP), controls a third of the country’s gas sales. The U.S. Treasury Department says it is owned or controlled by Ortega family members, and was bought with public money before being transferred to the family.

“All inventories of fuels and petroleum products owned by the Distribuidor Nicaraguense de Petroleo are declared of sovereign security and national interest,” according to the law, which was proposed by the president and approved by lawmakers.

Edwin Castro, chief of the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) party, which has an absolute majority in the Assembly, argued on Saturday the nationalization ensured “the supply of fuel to Nicaraguans.”

Neither the Ortega family nor DNP responded to a Reuters request for comment.

On Thursday, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) put Ortega’s son Rafael Antonio Ortega Murillo, DNP and two other companies he owns or controls on a sanctions blacklist.

“Treasury is targeting Rafael (Ortega) and the companies he owns and uses to launder money to prop up the Ortega regime at the expense of the Nicaraguan people,” said U.S. Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement.

The sanctions were a fresh effort by Washington to put pressure on the leftist government, which it has accused of human rights abuses, unlawful killings, arbitrary detentions, political persecution and widespread corruption.

Reporting by Ismael Lopez; Writing by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Alistair Bell