Venezuelan toll authorities confiscated a shipment of 2.5 million dollars in cash last December 29th, which is presumed to have been used to circumvent Venezuela’s strict currency controls. The shipment, which entered the country on an American Airlines flight, weighed 25 kilos and was entirely denominated in $100 bills.
Similar transports are said to have taken place on at least seven prior occasions, for a total of about $21 million. In each occasion the recipient of the shipments was Italcambio, a currency exchange agency owned by Carlos Dorado, an important supporter of the opposition.
The earlier transports were not intercepted, which leads authorities to suspect that toll agents are colluding with the smugglers.
Carlos Dorado, the owner of Italcambio, is known to belong to the hard-line opposition against the Chavez government. He writes a regular column in the oppositional newspaper El Universal and is presumed to have financed many of the opposition’s activities.
The smuggling of hard currency and of exchanging it on the black market is currently illegal in Venezuela, as all foreign currency must be exchanged by the central bank. During 2003, the government’s foreign exchange agency, CADIVI, exchanged over $10 billion. Each exchange at the official exchange rate of 1,600 bolivars to the dollar has to be applied for and justified, such as for the purchase of goods to be imported. While early during the exchange controls, which were started in February of last year, the requirements for receiving dollars were relatively strict, the regulations have since been loosened substantially.