Venezuela charges five officials with embezzling China funds

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela has arrested five officials and charged them with embezzling $84 million from a China-financed development fund administered by state-run development bank Bandes, President Nicolas Maduro said on Monday.

Maduro did not say whether the case was linked to charges by U.S. authorities earlier this year that employees of a New York broker-dealer had created an elaborate kickback scheme to ensure it won Bandes’ bond-trading business.

“We have captured five people in raids that we carried out in Caracas linked to the embezzlement of $84 million from the Chinese Fund and Bandes,” Maduro said in a televised broadcast.

“I ask that our people give us full support for our battle against corruption.”

He did not offer additional details. A Bandes official did not respond to a call requesting comment.

Venezuela has received at least $36 billion in loans from China that have helped finance two economic development funds focused largely on infrastructure projects. Maduro did not specify which of the funds was involved.

As of last month, U.S. attorneys had filed criminal charges against four people including a senior Bandes official and employees of broker-dealer Direct Access Partners over the alleged kickback scheme.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission brought a separate civil complaint four people, two of whom were also named in the criminal case.

Maduro has vowed a concerted effort to stamp out corruption in the South American OPEC nation, pointing to recent arrests of senior officials from state companies and government ministries.

None have been heavyweight leaders of the leftist “Chavismo” movement forged by the late President Hugo Chavez, his mentor. Opposition leaders have said he is avoiding going after influential ruling party leaders.

Additional reporting by Diego Ore; Editing by Daniel Wallis and David Gregorio