Venezuela seeks banking services in Asia, Europe: official

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CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela is seeking to open bank accounts in Asia and Europe to carry out hard currency transactions, Economy Vice President Tareck El Aissami said on Tuesday, as the OPEC nation seeks to overcome U.S. sanctions that have hurt its foreign commerce.

Hyperinflation-stricken Venezuela is in its fifth year of recession, prompting a surge in emigration that has overwhelmed its South American neighbors.

President Nicolas Maduro frequently blames a U.S. “economic war” for Venezuela’s chronic shortages of food, medicine and other basic goods. Critics attribute the crisis to Maduro’s policies, including a complex web of currency controls and heavy state intervention in the economy.

“The President has instructed the finance minister to begin a new correspondence scheme in Europe and Asia for public banks,” El Aissami said.

He added that the government will sell 2 billion euros ($2.32 billion) on its Dicom foreign exchange platform starting in November or December, without describing the time frame.

Official statistics show the government has sold just $75 million through Dicom auctions this year.

Cash-strapped Venezuela’s reserves are at a 20-year low at $8.825 billion, two-thirds of which are held in gold bars.

The euros would come from oil revenues, El Aissami said, without providing a detailed breakdown.

In August, Maduro devalued the bolivar currency by 96 percent, hiked taxes and raised the minimum wage. But the moves have not dented inflation, which the International Monetary Fund forecasts at 1.4 million percent this year and 10 million percent next year.

Reporting by Mayela Armas and Vivia Sequera, writing by Brian Ellsworth and Luc Cohen, editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Dan Grebler