Venezuelan police have arrested 86 suspects and frozen about US$4 million in bank deposits in an operation targeting currency exchange and speculation networks on the border with Colombia.
Venezuela's Vice-President Tareck El Aissami had previously announced that 1,133 bank accounts had been frozen in 19 banks, belonging to people linked with the illegal trade in bolivares – Venezuela's national currency – who buy and sell on the border with Colombia. Banesco, Venezuela's biggest private bank, held about 90 percent of this money.
El Aissami also accused Colombia's government of protecting the 'mafia' organizations trafficking Bolivares, which affects the availability of cash within the country, in an attempt to "destabilize and boycott the Venezuelan economy" in order to topple President Nicolas Maduro.
"All these corruption networks linked to the exchange mafias have – and we denounce it as it is – the support and protection of Juan Manuel Santos' Colombian government," El Aissami said on state television.
Venezuela has for years been battling the money mafias which operate along the border in order to circumvent exchange controls established by the Bolivarian government, demanding the Colombian government cooperate in controlling the illegal operations but with little success.
In 2000, Colombia approved 'Resolution 008,' which made it legal for currency exchanges on the border to arbitrarily set their own rates for bolivares, tens of times cheaper than the official rate set by Colombia's Central Bank. This means it's legal to buy bolivares on the border and then sell them in the cities at an exponentially higher price.
Among those arrested are several Colombian citizens, at least 31 of whom are linked to Carlos Colmenares, who was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of running websites artificially setting the price of the 'black dollar,' causing speculation and financial disruption.
According to El Aissami, such websites aim to secure "the imposition of criminal rates of the speculative dollar." The portals price currencies up to 12 times above Venezuela's official quota, contributing to the artificial devaluation of the national currency.