May 21, 2018 / 4:28 PM / a month ago

U.S. condemns Venezuela elections, imposes new sanctions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump signed another round of economic sanctions against Venezuela on Monday striking at its oil business by banning U.S. citizens and residents from buying Venezuelan debt for cash.

The sanctions prohibit involvement in the purchase of any debt owed to the Venezuelan government, including accounts receivable, particularly related to oil sold by the OPEC member, a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call. Trump has previously imposed individual and economic sanctions on Venezuela’s government, accusing it of rights abuses and corruption.

Monday’s action is intended to step up pressure on Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro, who won re-election on the weekend in a vote that the United States and other countries condemned as a farce.

“We now are seeing literally a smash-and-grab type of behavior by the regime, with anything that isn’t bolted down, they’re looking to sell off,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The region has never seen a kleptocracy like this.”

The U.S. official said they had observed the sale of debt for kickbacks, but declined to provide examples, instead saying Venezuelan officials were attempting to liquidate state assets for “pennies on the dollar.”

Venezuela’s Information Ministry and state oil company PDVSA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

While the order applies only to U.S. citizens and residents, U.S. officials have been talking with Chinese and Russian officials about issuing new debt, the official said.

“We have had fairly pointed discussions with the People’s Republic of China on not throwing good money after bad,” the official said. A similar discussion had been had with Russia, which seemed to want to be a “spoiler in every way possible, on this and other matters,” the official said.

The United States and other countries have warned China that only the Venezuelan national assembly can issue new debt, not the constituent assembly or the Maduro government itself.

Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Makini Brice, Lisa Lambert and James Oliphant; Editing by Frances Kerry and Grant McCool

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