MEXICO CITY/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The FBI is probing several Mexican and European companies allegedly involved in trading Venezuelan oil as it gathers information for a U.S. Treasury Department inquiry into possible sanctions busting, according to four people familiar with the matter.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and special envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told reporters late last month the State and Treasury departments were investigating whether several firms were violating sanctions imposed on Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA since January 2019.
The sanctions are part of a campaign by Washington to strangle the revenues of President Nicolas Maduro, which has failed to break his grip on power. U.S. officials say privately that is a source of frustration for President Donald Trump, whose administration has tightened the implementation of sanctions in recent months.
Three of the people who provided information to the FBI – who asked for anonymity to discuss the matter – said the agency was investigating three Mexican companies: Libre Abordo, Schlager Business Group, and Grupo Jomadi Logistics & Cargo.
Reuters could find no record of Venezuelan oil purchases by those companies prior to sanctions.
The people also said the FBI was gathering information on two Europe-based oil trading companies that do have a track record of dealing in Venezuelan oil or selling fuel to PDVSA: Elemento Ltd and Swissoil Trading SA.
One of the sources familiar with the matter in Washington said any action against the Mexican and European companies could be postponed or cancelled if the firms halted trade with Venezuela. The three others said the probe by the Treasury and the State departments could potentially lead to action in the coming weeks.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, which handles media enquiries for the FBI, declined to comment, as did a State Department spokesperson. The Treasury Department did not reply to a request for comment.
By Marianna Parraga, Matt Spetalnick and Ana Isabel Martinez for Reuters
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