The Maduro regime announced this evening that it was taking over Banesco, the country’s largest private bank, for an initial period of 90 days. In a statement that aired on the state-owned VTV network, the regime claimed that it was taking over the bank in order to “protect the Venezuelan people”.
The takeover comes less than a day after agents with the General Directorate for Military Counterintelligence [DGCIM] arrested eleven directors from Banesco, Venezuela’s largest private bank. The executives were arrested as part of Operacion Manos de Papel [Operation Paper Hands], an ongoing security initiative that is targeting financial crimes in Venezuela.
According to El Nacional, the executives were arrested over “alleged irregularities” at the bank that “undermined the Venezuelan currency”. The executives were taken to the DGCIM headquarters, where they spent the night under questioning.
The names of the arrested executives are:
- Oscar Doval
- Jesus Irausquin
- Carlos Lorenzo
- Pedro Pernia
- Belinda Omaña
- Marco Ortega
- Liz Sanchez
- David Romero
- Cosme Betancourt
- Teresa De Prisco
- Carmen Lorenzo
Attorney General Tarek William Saab confirmed the arrests yesterday during a press conference this afternoon. Saab said that so far, 134 people have been arrested during Operation Paper Hands, and that arrest warrants have been issued against 198 others.
Just hours before the takeover of the bank was announced, Saab told reporters that the government would take no such action against Banesco. During his press conference today, Saab called on Banesco’s clients to remain calm during the investigation. Calling the arrests “very surgical”, Saab attempted to downplay fears that the bank would be nationalized by saying:
I want to calm and soothe clients who have accounts in this bank and in others, because this is a very surgical event that will only target a criminal action outside of the law [sic], which in this case we have already determined.
While details on the executives’ arrests are scare, vice president Tareck El Aissami said yesterday that Operation Paper Hands had identified over 1,000 bank accounts suspected of facilitating illicit financial transactions, and that 90% of the accounts were with Banesco.
El Nacional reported today that Banesco’s CEO, Juan Carlos Escotet, is expected to arrive in the country soon in order to intervene in the situation and attempt to secure the release of the executives.
Escotet, who holds dual Spanish-Venezuelan citizenship, founded Banesco in the year 2000.
This is not the first that Banesco has been in the headlines this year. Back in early January of this year, PSUV vice president Diosdado Cabello said that the Venezuelan government was in the last stages of a process to “purchase” Banesco in order to transfer the institution to the public sphere.
Cabello’s assertion was unequivocally refuted by Escotet.
DGCIM Role Unclear
Founded in 2011, the DGCIM forms part of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces and is tasked with conducting counterintelligence operations in the country. These operations would typically include the detecting, tracking and neutralization of spies, for example.
Maria Alesia Sosa, a Venezuelan journalist, tweeted an image that appears to show at least seven Banesco executives in a boardroom yesterday. The picture also shows what appear to be officers from the DGCIM, at least two of whom are masked:
In her tweet, Sosa claims that the executives were first led to a meeting with members of a regime financial organization before they were detained. She also claims that the executives who were not present at the meeting were located in their homes, where they were arrested.
MUD Calls for Empty Streets on May 20
The Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) opposition bloc issued a press release today in which it called on Venezuelans to remain home on May 20, the day of the highly criticized presidential election.
In the release, the MUD also called on Venezuelans who are forced to vote on May 20 to “do everything necessary” to spoil their ballot.
The Maduro regime has long been accused of threatening or otherwise forcing people to vote in elections, either through direct physical threats or by threatening to fire any public sector employee who does not cast a ballot.
Below, translated excerpts of the MUD’s press release:
What is scheduled to take place on May 20 is not a transparent and credible election that would allow the people to freely choose; it is an event without any safeguards that greatly benefits the government [being held to] give Maduro the illusion that he was elected even though his presidency and government are rejected by 80% of the Venezuelan people.
As a result, the so-called election planned for May 20 will only serve to allow those who are responsible for the current national crisis to pretend that they were re-elected with the help of all of those who participate in this empty process. With this in mind, participating in the event that the government calls an election will only serve to lengthen the grave situation facing the country, and to allow Maduro to remain in power thanks to the supposed legitimacy that those who participate int he election will give him.
… the [MUD] calls on all citizens who agree with the struggle for political change through free elections, which make up the immense majority of democratic society, to do the following on May 20:
Do not participate in this electoral fraud, leave the streets of the country empty, and [leave Maduro] alone as a way of expressing our rejection against Maduro’s regime and the electoral fraud of May 20.
Let our choice to not participate express our decision to continue to fight for political change.
Those who are forced by the regime to participate in this process must to everything necessary to nullify their vote.
In order to achieve political change, we must make the social crisis visible, call for, participate in protests and articulate [sic] social sectors through the [MUD], the political parties and the Frente Amplio [an opposition coalition made up of civil society groups].
Not participating in the May 20 election does not mean that we are not willing to participate in future elections, but they must take place in a free, democratic and plural manner.
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