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US Lawmakers Propose Sanctions for Venezuela Food Corruption

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CARACAS — 

Venezuelan officials may face U.S. sanctions for profiting from food shortages that have exacerbated hunger in the South American country.

The calls by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle come in response to an Associated Press investigation that found trafficking in hard-to-find food has become big business in Venezuela, with the military at the heart of the graft. Embattled socialist President Nicolas Maduro has given the military increasingly broad control over the food supply as shortages have led to widespread malnutrition this year.

“When the military is profiting off of food distribution while the Venezuelan people increasingly starve, corruption has reached a new level of depravity that cannot go unnoticed,” said Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Kickbacks to generals?

The AP report published last month detailed a chain of dirty dealing by the military, including kickbacks to generals for food contracts and bribes to move food out of the port. Some of the food is purchased in the U.S. and some of the bribes passed through the U.S. banking system.

U.S. prosecutors are investigating senior Venezuelan officials, including members of the military, for laundering riches from food contracts through the U.S. financial system, the AP learned from four people with direct knowledge of the probes. No charges have been brought.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said President Donald Trump should take immediate action to sanction the top officials named in the AP report.

“This should be one of President Trump’s first actions in office,” Rubio, who is chairman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee that oversees Latin America, said in a statement.

Business owners say food minister involved

The Associated Press cited documents and testimony from business owners who pointed to food minister Gen. Rodolfo Marco Torres and his predecessor, Gen. Carlos Osorio, as key figures involved in fraudulent food imports. Neither official responded to requests for comment, but in the past, both have dismissed charges of corruption as empty accusations propagated by political opponents.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, said she is urging the State and Treasury Departments to apply sanctions to Marco Torres and Osorio, as well as anyone else getting rich off Venezuela’s food shortages. She is also asking that government agencies ensure U.S. companies are not doing business directly with any Venezuelan business owners fronting for corrupt officials. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, joined her in

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