The United States blacklisted Mexican company Libre Abordo and a related firm, accusing them of helping Caracas evade US sanctions in the first formal action taken by the US Treasury Department against Mexican companies involved in trading Venezuelan oil.
The Treasury said in a statement it imposed sanctions on three individuals, eight foreign entities and two vessels for activities related to a network attempting to skirt US sanctions on Venezuela aimed at pressuring leftist President Nicolas Maduro.
Among those blacklisted were Mexico-based Libre Abordo and related Schlager Business Group, as well as their co-owners, Olga Maria Zepeda Esparza and Veronica Esparza Garcia.
The Treasury also targeted Mexican Joaquin Leal Jimenez, accusing him of having worked with Alex Saab, recently arrested in Cape Verde, Libre Abordo and Schlager Business Group for brokering the resale of millions of barrels of Venezuelan crude.
Leal is the critical conduit between Libre Abordo, Schlager Business Group, and their owners, and PDVSA and Saab. Leal has been coordinating the purchase and sale of Venezuelan-origin crude oil from PDVSA, Treasury said.
Libre Abordo said its lawyers will evaluate the Treasury's decision, which it said wrongly linked the firm to unrelated entities. Our exchange of humanitarian aid with Venezuela should not be subject of sanctions, Libre Abordo said in a statement.
The sanctions freeze any US assets of the individuals and entities and generally prohibit Americans from dealing with them.
Libre Abordo and Schlager Business Group began receiving Venezuelan crude for resale in Asian markets late last year after signing two contracts with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in mid-2019.
The agreement was framed as an oil-for-food pact exempted from US sanctions as the Mexican companies intended to supply Venezuela with 210,000 tons of corn as part of the agreement.
Through May, Libre Abordo and Schlager received some 30 million barrels of Venezuelan oil, according to PDVSA's documents. Even though they supplied about 500 water trucks in exchange, food was never delivered, as very low oil prices affected a schedule originally planned, Libre Abordo said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the oil-for-food enterprise skimmed millions from funds that were claimed to have been for humanitarian aid, yet failed to deliver the promised food to the Venezuelan people.
They want us to be unable to export oil so the Venezuelan people are left without food, medicine or gasoline, Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza blasted. Your actions and sanctions are criminal, he told Pompeo over Twitter.
The United States in January 2019 recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the OPEC nation's legitimate interim president and has ratcheted up sanctions and diplomatic pressure in the aftermath of Maduro's 2018 re-election that was widely described as fraudulent.
Maduro remains in power, backed by Venezuela's military as well as Russia, China and Cuba. The United States will continue to relentlessly pursue sanctions evaders, Treasury Deputy Secretary Justin Muzinich said in the statement.
Washington also targeted on Thursday Marshall Islands-based Delos Voyager Shipping Ltd. and Greece-based Romina Maritime Co Inc. for operating in the Venezuelan oil sector, giving them until July 21 to wind down activities.
The other entities blacklisted are: Alel Technologies LLC, Cosmo Resources Pte. Ltd, Luzy Technologies LLC; and Washington Trading Ltd.
The Treasury delisted Marshall Islands-based firm Afranav Maritime Ltd and Greece-based Seacomber Ltd, as well as two vessels owned by them, after the companies promised to stop oil trade with Venezuela while Maduro is in power.