September 12, 2019 / 8:57 PM / 4 days ago

Venezuela government intervenes at private bank after offshore affiliate closes

FILE PHOTO: A security guard stands in front of the Venezuelan Banco Occidental de Descuento (BOD) bank in Caracas, Venezuela, January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s banking regulator will launch a temporary state intervention of private bank Banco Occidental de Descuento (BOD), according to a document seen by Reuters on Thursday, following the closure of the bank’s offshore affiliate in Curacao.

The measure at the country’s fifth-largest bank by assets, which has 6 million clients, will last for 120 days and may be extended. It will allow the bank to keep operating, but dividend payments, new investments, and new board appointments will be prohibited.

Regulator Sudeban said the decision came in light of Curacao authorities’ decision to implement an “emergency measure” suspending activities at Banco del Orinoco, a BOD affiliate, on Sept. 5.

BOD owner Victor Vargas disputed the characterization of Sudeban’s action as an “intervention.”

“There is no intervention measure of any nature. There is an administrative measure - totally normal in the financial system worldwide - which simply does not impede [the bank’s] normal functioning,” Vargas told reporters.

The Central Bank of Curacao and San Martin said its decision was due to “deficiencies” at the bank. Vargas added that BOD had appealed that measure.

BOD’s board later dissolved Banco del Orinoco, but its assets on the Caribbean island remain frozen while authorities probe the bank’s finances. Curacao’s decision had also prompted Panama’s banking regulator to intervene at Allbank, a BOD affiliate in the Central American country, Panama’s banking regulator said in a statement.

Venezuela’s information ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Corina Pons and Deisy Buitrago; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and Sandra Maler

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