The new Venezuelan cryptocurrency the Petro logo is seen as Minister for University Education, Science and Technology Hugbel Roa talks to the media during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela, January 31, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

U.S. Bans Use of Venezuela’s Cryptocurrency

The Trump administration targeted Venezuela's new bitcoin­like currency Monday, prohibiting Americans and U.S. companies from dealing in the digital currency.

“Investing in the petro should be seen as investing in the dictatorship, ” a senior U.S. official said after President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning the currency. “The petro is a desperate attempt by a corrupt regime to defraud international investors.”

The U.S. Treasury also unveiled sanctions on four Venezuelan officials accused of corruption, adding to the more than 50 officials from the country that have been blacklisted by Washington in recent years on a host of charges including graft and human­rights violations.

The White House said it was evaluating stricter measures, including a ban on Venezuelan oil. Such an action could be devastating for a country that relies on crude exports for nearly all of its dollar income. U.S. officials didn’t say if or when they would reach a decision on the matter.

There was no immediate response from Venezuela’s government, which routinely dismisses sanctions as part of a U.S.­ led effort to destabilize the ruling Socialist Party.

Earlier this month, Mr. Maduro said his government had received $5 billion in committed investments during a pre­sale of the petro, without offering evidence. Deeming the launch of the petro ­­ backed in principle by Venezuela’s vast oil reserves ­­ a success, the president has since said he plans to create another gold­backed version of the cryptocurrency in an effort to attract funds that the country badly needs to overcome food shortages and plummeting oil production.

U.S. officials say any other cryptocurrencies created by Venezuela’s government in the future will also be subject to the ban, which took effect immediately. Echoing the U.S. action, Venezuelan lawmakers opposed to Mr. Maduro say the petro is illegal because it was created without parliamentary approval, raising questions about the asset’s validity if there were a change of power.

Mr. Maduro plans to hold a May 20 presidential election that the U.S. and other countries have said would be fraudulent. The Venezuelan leader has banned top opposition leaders from participating and failed to guarantee the vote would be free and fair. Staging the election could open the door to tougher sanctions.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), who has urged the U.S. to act against the petro, applauded the White House’s move, citing the deprivation in the country and the Venezuelan government’s undermining of democracy. “[We] must do more to hold the regime accountable for these atrocious crimes,” he said.

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