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 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.