US indicts two Venezuelan ex-officials for money laundering

©Agence France-Presse

The United States opposes Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (C) and recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's interim president

Washington (AFP) - The US government on Thursday announced indictments against a current and former official in Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's administration on money laundering charges.

Minister of Electric Power Luis Motta Dominguez -- whom Maduro replaced following nationwide blackouts in March -- was charged along with Eustiquio Jose Lugo Gomez, a top official who still works at the ministry.

"Rather than use their official positions to serve the Venezuelan people, Motta and Lugo illegally enriched themselves and contributed to the electricity crisis," a statement from the US Treasury Department said.

Both men are accused of taking bribes in exchange for awarding contracts for electrical infrastructure equipment, some of which was incompatible with the network, "rendering them useless and contributing to the ongoing deterioration of the electrical system."

"Venezuelans have suffered over 23,860 electrical outages this year due to the corruption and mismanagement of Nicolas Maduro and those associated with him," a separate statement from the State Department said.

Motta, 60, and Lugo, 55, allegedly laundered their bribes through banks in south Florida.

They were charged in the Southern District of Florida with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and seven counts of money laundering.  

According to the indictment, Motta and Lugo awarded three Florida-based companies more than $60 million in procurement contracts in exchange for bribes.

The Treasury Department also slapped sanctions on the pair, meaning all their US property and interests in property have been blocked.

However, the sanctions "need not be permanent," the statement said.

"Sanctions are intended to bring about a positive change of behavior," the Treasury statement read, meaning they could be lifted if these officials turn on the Maduro regime and take "concrete and meaningful actions to restore democratic order."

The United States opposes Maduro and recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's interim president.