CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s Central Bank filed a lawsuit on Friday with allegations of “cyber-terrorism” against a U.S.-based website that tracks the OPEC member’s currency black market.
The DolarToday site has enraged President Nicolas Maduro’s government by publishing a rate in Venezuelan bolivars for the greenback far higher than the three official levels under Venezuela’s 12-year-long currency controls.
The rate has become an unofficial marker in the crisis-ridden economy, with some Venezuelans using it in private transactions or to fix prices of imported goods.
The lawsuit, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, named three Venezuelans in the United States as being behind the site: Gustavo Diaz, Ivan Lozada and Jose Altuve.
A representative of DolarToday could not immediately be reached by email or telephone for comment.
The Central Bank requested both an injunction and damages, accusing the three of fanning inflation in Venezuela, the world’s highest, and enriching themselves by illegal trading.
“Defendants conspired to use a form of cyber-terrorism
to wreak, and in fact they have wreaked, economic and reputational harm on the Central Bank by impeding its ability to manage the Republic’s economy and foreign exchange system,” the lawsuit said.
DolarToday, which takes an aggressively anti-Maduro stance in its publications and says it calculates its rate based on trades on the Venezuela-Colombia border, quoted the dollar at 820 bolivars on Friday.
That is 130 times the strongest official rate of 6.3 bolivars and four times the government’s weakest rate of 200.
Maduro, a former bus driver and foreign minister who won election to replace Hugo Chavez in 2013, frequently lambastes DolarToday as part of an international capitalist conspiracy to sabotage the economy and undermine socialism in Venezuela.
“Arbitrarily manufacturing currency exchange rates creates further turmoil in a country that is working to overcome the obstacles it already faces,” said Adam Fox, a lawyer for U.S. law firm Squire Patton Boggs, which represents the bank.
Critics say Venezuela’s economic mess, with Gross Domestic Product shrinking and shortages widespread, is the result of hardline state policies such as currency controls.
The Central Bank estimated a million people visit the DolarToday site daily. Its Twitter account has 1.93 million followers. “Defendants have been playing ‘a cyber cat-and-mouse game’,” to circumvent government blocks, it said.
Central Bank officials in Caracas had no immediate comment.
Additional reporting by Corina Pons in Caracas and Diane Bartz in Washington; editing by Grant McCool
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