Portuguese bank halted $1.2 billion transfer of Venezuela funds: lawmaker

A man sells umbrellas near ATM machines of a Novo Banco branch in downtown Lisbon, Portugal April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

CARACAS (Reuters) - Portugal-based Novo Banco halted a transfer of $1.2 billion by the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to banks in Uruguay, a Venezuelan legislator said on Tuesday, a day after the opposition denounced what they called the theft of public funds.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who most European and Western Hemisphere nations have recognized as the country’s legitimate leader, said on Monday that authorities were trying to move up to $1.2 billion to banks in Uruguay.

Countries around the world are pressuring Maduro to resign amid a hyperinflationary economic crisis that has led millions to emigrate. His adversaries warn that officials are seeking to drain state coffers ahead of a potential change of government.

“They attempted to move Venezuelan government financial assets in Novo Banco in Portugal worth some $1.2 billion toward Uruguayan banks,” said legislator Carlos Paparoni during a congressional session on Tuesday.

“I’m pleased to inform the Venezuelan people that this transaction has until now been halted, protecting the resources of all Venezuelans.”

Venezuela’s Information Ministry, which handles all media inquiries, did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

Lisbon-based Novo Banco, which is 75 percent-owned by U.S. private equity firm Lone Star Funds, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Major European nations joined the United States on Monday in recognizing Guaido, while members of an Americas regional bloc kept up the pressure on socialist Maduro.

Reporting by Vivian Sequera in Caracas, additional reporting by Sérgio Gonçalves in Lisbon, writing by Brian Ellsworth, editing by Rosalba O’Brien