Venezuela raids local representative of Oppenheimer brokerage

04/05/2013

By Andrew Cawthorne

CARACAS, April 5 (Reuters) - Venezuela said on Friday it raided an office containing the local representation of U.S.-based brokerage Oppenheimer & Co. on suspicion of illegal foreign currency trading.

A statement from the public prosecutor's office said intelligence agents raided the premises of local broker Brisbane, Mendes de Leon, Pettus y Asociados, as well as the private house of its director on Thursday.

"Inside the business, a representative of Oppenheimer & Co brokerage works," it said.

"During the raid, four folders were confiscated with information about emails showing presumed purchases and sales of foreign currency, specifically dollars, outside the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela's exchange controls."

Venezuela's socialist government has operated strict currency controls for a decade and periodically cracks down on a black market for dollars.

Acting President Nicolas Maduro, who is running in an April 14 election to replace late leader Hugo Chavez, has been calling for tougher measures against "speculators" trading illegally in dollars and committing other crimes to the detriment to the local economy.

Local companies have long decried the restricted access to greenbacks, saying they have no option but to turn to the black market to keep imports coming.

Oppenheimer & Co is a New York-based unit of Oppenheimer Holdings Inc, an investment bank and securities dealer with roots tracing back to 1881.

In a note to clients in Venezuela, it confirmed its Caracas office had been temporarily closed.

"Please be assured that your investments are safe and secure. For the time being, your account will be serviced by Oppenheimer staff in our Miami International office," it said.

The public prosecutor's office's statement said that dollars, euros, firearms and "other evidence of criminal interest" had been found at the house of the local brokerage's director, John Gayle Pettus Jaso.

Calls to the firm on Friday went unanswered.



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