Venezuela bypassing U.S. sanctions through Europe, opposition envoy says

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition needs more support from Europe to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro, an opposition envoy said on Tuesday, accusing the government of using the European financial system to get around U.S. sanctions.

The opposition and the United States consider Maduro’s 2018 re-election fraudulent and say he has overseen an economic and political crisis. On Monday, a group of Latin American nations agreed to impose sanctions on members of his government at a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

“The whole world needs to condemn Maduro, but principally Europe,” Carlos Vecchio, the U.S representative for opposition leader Juan Guaido, said in an interview in New York. “Nicolas Maduro’s regime is bypassing U.S. sanctions through Europe.”

More than 50 countries have recognized Guaido as the rightful leader of OPEC-member Venezuela since the head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, arguing Maduro was illegitimate.

But Maduro, who calls Guaido a U.S-backed puppet seeking to oust him in a coup, retains the recognition of the 193-member U.N. General Assembly.

Vecchio said he would meet later on Tuesday with Enrique Iglesias, the European Union’s special adviser for Venezuela, to request the group slap deeper individual sanctions on members of Maduro’s government who he said have accounts and assets in Europe. He did not name specific officials.

The European Union had suggested it would deepen sanctions against Venezuela should a Norway-brokered negotiation process between the government and the opposition fail. Guaido declared those talks dead earlier this month, weeks after Maduro walked away in protest of U.S. sanctions.

Venezuela’s opposition and U.S. officials are hoping that by cutting Venezuelan officials off from their personal wealth, they will have an incentive to turn on Maduro or return to the negotiating table.

Vecchio said he wanted Europe to take steps to cut off the growing flow of Euros in cash within Venezuela’s economy. He said these came from gold sales, which are sanctioned by the United States.

In a statement on Monday evening, the International Contact Group on Venezuela — consisting largely of European countries — said it was concerned about the “temporary suspension” of the talks and expressed concern about Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis. It did not mention possible new European sanctions.

Vecchio said he expected the Trump administration to issue specific secondary sanctions deemed to be helping Maduro stay in power. An Aug. 5 U.S. executive order that froze Venezuelan government assets in the United States said that would be a possibility.

Reporting by Luc Cohen; Editing by Michelle Nichols and Grant McCool

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