U.S. imposes sanctions on three Venezuelans under drug kingpin rules

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WASHINGTON/CARACAS (Reuters) – The United States on Monday imposed sanctions on three Venezuelans and 20 companies for narcotics trafficking activity, as it seeks to increase pressure on socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence addresses the Organization of American States at the OAS headquarters in Washington, U.S. May 7, 2018 REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Of the newly sanctioned companies, 16 are based in Venezuela and four in Panama. They are owned or controlled by the three individuals, the U.S. Treasury said in a statement on its website.

“Systemic corruption and a collapse in the rule of law are defining features of Venezuela’s government,” said U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“We will deny corrupt Venezuelan regime officials access to the U.S. financial system as we work with international partners to support the Venezuelan people in restoration of democracy and a return to prosperity.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence addresses the Organization of American States at OAS headquarters in Washington, U.S. May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is set to discuss the sanctions in a speech to the Organization of American States on Monday, an aide to Pence said.

Pence is also expected to call for a delay in Venezuela’s presidential election, set for May 20, in his speech, the aide said.

Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Maduro, himself subject to sanctions last year, regularly laughs off Washington’s disapproval and blames the U.S. “empire” for his country’s economic woes, saying it is trying to undermine his administration.

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Pence previously has urged the international community to increase pressure on Maduro, who the United States blames for a deep recession and hyperinflation in Venezuela that have caused shortages of food and medicine and a flood of migrants into neighboring countries.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has already imposed some financial and individual sanctions on Maduro’s government, accusing senior officials of rights abuses and corruption.

The Trump administration has also been weighing new oil-related sanctions on a Venezuelan oil services company and on insurance coverage for tankers carrying Venezuelan oil.

Oil prices rose to their highest levels since late 2014 on Monday, boosted by fresh troubles for Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA [PDVSA.UL] and a looming decision on whether the United States will reimpose sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.

Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Rosalba O’Brien

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