US slams Russian oil trading firm with new sanctions in bid to stifle cash flow to Venezuelan regime

In its most recent effort to stifle cash flow to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s regime, the Trump administration on Tuesday announced new sanctions against a Russian state-controlled brokerage tied to Vladimir Putin that the U.S. says has helped the Venezuelan government skirt an American oil embargo.

The announcement came after Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó defied a national travel ban to visit world leaders in Colombia, Europe, Canada and the U.S. The high point of the trip came when Guaidó met with President Trump in the Oval Office after being recognized the “legitimate president of Venezuela” during the State of the Union address.

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A subsidiary of the Russian state-controlled global energy giant Rosneft Oil Company, and a registered trading company in Switzerland since 2011, Rosneft Trading S.A and its president Didier Casimiro brokered the sale of Venezuelan crude oil by organizing shipments from the South American nation to west Africa, China and other areas in Asia, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a press release Tuesday.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro holds up a copy of his country's case taken to the International Criminal Court regarding U.S. sanctions during a press conference at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro holds up a copy of his country's case taken to the International Criminal Court regarding U.S. sanctions during a press conference at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday.

“Rosneft Trading has propped up the dictatorial Maduro, enabling his repression of the Venezuelan people,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, announcing the new sanctions. In January 2019, the White House announced billions of dollars in sanctions against Venezuela’s state-owned oil monopoly PDVSA.

“The United States is determined to prevent the looting of Venezuela’s oil assets by the corrupt Maduro regime,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin added in a statement.

Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams also addressed members of the media in a State Department press conference following the announcement.

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The action against Rosneft Trading and Casamiro means that any assets they have in the U.S. or in the control of U.S. financial institutions will be frozen. In addition, anyone who does business with them could face American sanctions, which senior administration officials told reporters should largely freeze the company out of the global financial system.

“Russian oil company Rosneft Trading SA has been sanctioned for being complicit in the dictatorship. This news is a victory!” Guaidó tweeted, sharing the U.S. Treasury press release. “Whoever supports the dictator, whoever he is, wherever he comes from, must bear the consequences. Those who collaborate with democracy will be welcome.”

Guaidó launched a campaign to oust Maduro a year ago but so far has failed to make it a reality. He has been unable to flip the military’s loyalty away from Maduro. Following his return from his three-week international tour, Guaidó’s uncle, Juan Jose Marquez, was detained last week.

The U.S. State Department denounced his detainment as politically motivated after the Venezuelan government accused Marquez of smuggling explosive material aboard a direct international flight from Portugal, Reuters reported.


“The preposterous charges that have been put forward further exemplify the increasing desperation of Maduro and his corrupt associates,” said State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus in a statement. “Manufacturing evidence to justify arbitrary, politically motivated detentions is a common tool of the illegitimate former Maduro regime.”

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The U.S. and about 60 other countries say Maduro’s reelection in 2018 was not legitimate and have recognized opposition leader Guaido as interim president.

Nearly 5 million people have fled Venezuela amid food shortages and hyperinflation under Maduro’s socialist regime, causing a migratory crisis in nearby Latin American nations, including Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, and Argentina, according to figures from the U.N.'s refugee agency UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.