Wed, Dec 09, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Venezuela court orders more arrests in bank cases

AP , CARACAS

A Venezuelan court has ordered the arrest of 30 bank executives for alleged violations at seven banks that have been taken over by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s government.

Venezuelan prosecutors have also asked Interpol for help seeking the capture of nine of the suspects who are thought to have fled the country.

Chavez said on Monday that “there are no sacred cows here,” after the arrest of Banco Real president Arne Chacon, a brother of Science and Technology Minister Jesse Chacon, who resigned over the scandal.

Chavez defended his former aide, saying he didn’t have anything to do with his brother’s actions.

As for Arne Chacon, Chavez said: “He’s jailed very well and should stay there.”

Chavez questioned how Chacon had come from owning little to being a bank president.

Prosecutors said six of the suspects had been detained. A court on Monday ordered the arrest of three more bank executives, prosecutors said in a statement, bringing to 30 the number of arrests sought in the banking scandal that has implicated business people with links to the government.

Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz vowed a thorough investigation, saying in a televised interview on Monday night that “we’re going to see more” court orders against suspects.

Responding to a question during the interview, she acknowledged that prosecutors are investigating the role of Venezuela’s securities commission.

The investigation continues to expand “and things are getting clearer,” Ortega Diaz said.

Seven banks have been shut down since Nov. 30, and authorities allege widespread irregularities that put some of them in financial trouble.

Chavez said authorities will seize businesses from bank owners in order to recoup bank losses caused by them.

Others among those arrested include Ricardo Fernandez, who led a group of investors that recently bought four of the seized banks — Canarias, Confederado, Bolivar and ProVivienda (BanPro).

Fernandez, who had a lucrative business selling food to state-run subsidized markets, is charged with misappropriating deposits and providing loans to other businesses in which he was an investor.

The charge carries a minimum sentence of nine years in prison, Ortega Diaz said.

The other three banks taken over by the government — Central Banco Universal, Baninvest Banco de Inversion and Banco Real — were purchased earlier this year by businessman Pedro Torres Ciliberto, who Chavez said is now in Miami.

Two of the banks — Canarias and BanPro — are to be permanently shut down and their assets sold off. Chavez said four other banks — Bolivar, Confederado, Central and Real — will be relaunched as part of the state banking system, three of them as part of a new state-run bank called Banco Bicentenario.

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