Millions of dollars were diverted from the Venezuelan state oil company to a small bank about 6,000 km away in Bulgaria, officials said on Wednesday revealed an investigation into money laundering cases .
The Bulgarian government has frozen accounts at the bank and is also studying accounts with other institutions, officials said at a press conference in the capital Sofia. But much of the money fired from Venezuela, they said, has already been transferred to accounts located outside of Bulgaria.
US authorities have informed the Bulgarians of the transfers of Petróleos de Venezuela, or Pdvsa, oil company, announced US and Bulgarian officials. The Trump administration, which is trying to force President Nicolás Maduro to step down from power in the midst of a political crisis, has recently imposed economic sanctions on the business.
Dimitar Georgiev, the head of the State Agency for National Security, said about the amounts involved, "We can not be exact, but millions of euros."
Officials refused to name the bank, which they described as small, or to say how many people were involved in the transfers. On the Bulgarian side, they added, was a lawyer's trust account, in which sub-accounts were created on behalf of third parties.
Some of the remittances from the Bulgarian bank listed below – for example, sponsoring a sports federation in Venezuela or making food purchases – have been described as fictitious in Sofia. They stated that the Bulgarian accounts had been created by one person, whom they did not name, who is a citizen in Bulgaria and in other countries, but who was not presently in the country.
Neither Pdvsa nor the Caracas government made any immediate comment on the disclosure in Bulgaria.
The announcement followed a meeting between Bulgarian officials, including Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, and Americans, including ambassador to Sofia Eric Rubin.
"The subject of the discussion, among other things, was the crucial need to stop the illegal transfer of funds to support the illegal authorities in Venezuela," Rubin told reporters. "Our government is working closely with Bulgaria and other members of the European Union to ensure that the wealth of Venezuela's population is not stolen."
The news came in the middle of a tense tension in Venezuela, where Mr. Maduro remains in power despite international pressure. the United States and dozens of other countries have recognized the Leader of the Opposition, Juan Guaidó, as interim president.
Mr Maduro claimed his reelection last year during a vote tainted by fraud. Last month, the opposition-controlled National Assembly declared the elections and Mr. Maduro to be illegitimate.
The Venezuelan economy, plagued by unemployment, hyperinflation and severe shortages, has halved since 2013 and millions of people have fled the country. The Trump administration has forced the Maduro government to rely more on the sanctions imposed last month on the Venezuelan oil company. felt by ordinary Venezuelans.
For generations, the national oil company has been a mainstay of Venezuela's economy, one of the world's largest oil reserves. It has funded numerous spending programs led by Mr. Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez.
But Pdvsa was beaten for lack of investment, cronyism, mismanagement, corruption and emigration of experts. Over the past five years, the country's crude oil production has been cut in half, as has the price of oil – a double blow for the government and the national economy.
Charges of money laundering and embezzlement circulated around Pdvsa. Opposition politicians say it has lost nearly $ 30 billion in recent years.