The US Treasury Department has alleged that Evrofinance Mosnarbank (Evrofinance), a Russia-based financial institution, bankrolled Venezuela's controversial state cryptocurrency, the petro, in a March 11 press release.
The US Treasury has added Evrofinance to the Specially Designated Nationals List, blocked the bank's US financial assets held in the bank's depository, and prohibited US citizens from utilizing its services. The bank is accused of being the primary financier of the petro – it allowed early investors to buy petro by wiring fiat to an Evrofinance account owned by the Venezuelan government, which the Treasury Department believes the country's embattled president, Nicolás Maduro, would use to circumvent US sanctions.
The Treasury Department also accuses Evrofinance of assisting Venezuela's state-owned oil and natural gas company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A (PdVSA), which ostensibly manufactures the oil that backs the petro. According to the US Treasury, the bank "has long been a vehicle for corruption, embezzlement, and money laundering by Maduro and his cronies." For its part, the gas and oil company has been under US sanctions since January.
Per the press release, Evrofinance is owned by both Russian and Venezuelan "state-owned companies." In 2011, Hugo Chavez, Maduro's predecessor, used the Venezuelan National Development Fund to purchase a 49 percent stake in Evrofinance. The bank's net assets suspiciously grew by 50 percent last year amid escalating US sanctions.
A subsequent article in The Wall Street Journal posits that the action taken by the US Treasury indicates an upsurge in the "pressure the Trump administration is placing on Mr. Maduro and the PdVSA, while also raising the level of risk for U.S. entities dealing with Russian financial institutions."
In May of last year, Evrofinance stated that allegations from the "Russian and foreign mass media" that it was providing financial services linked to the petro were false. The bank claimed it "has never conducted and does not carry out operations on the purchase/sale of the Venezuelan cryptocurrency Petro" or any type of cryptocurrency. Furthering its attempt to appear above board, on Monday, March 11, the bank issued a tonally similar statement, saying it "continues to operate in a stable manner" and will continue providing financial services and fulfilling its responsibilities to customers and stakeholders.
That same day, National Security Advisor John Bolton tweeted a warning to financial institutions across the globe, saying, "Bankers: Do not help Maduro and his accomplices steal the assets of the Venezuelan people. The United States is watching. The world is watching. The Venezuelan people are watching."