Venezuelan Government Takes Over Four Banks and Arrests Owner

The Venezuelan government has intervened in four small, but linked banks that were not complying with administrative norms, and has also arrested their main shareholder, Ricardo Fernandez, who is known as a supporter of the government.

By Tamara Pearson - Venezuelanalysis.com

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Merida, November 22nd, 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government has intervened in four small, but linked banks that were not complying with administrative norms, and has also arrested their main shareholder, Ricardo Fernandez, who is known as a supporter of the government.

The Venezuelan government announced its intervention into the private banks on Friday morning. The banks are Canarias Banco Universal, Bolivar Banco, Provivienda Banco (Banpro), and Banco Confederado. The banks together form one financial group, Grupo Financiero Bolivar, and control less than 10% of market.

The minister for economy and finances, Ali Rodriguez, said the intervention was because the banks repeatedly hadn’t complied with administrative norms. Specifically, they had increased capital without specifying the origin of the funds, Banpro had bought shares in Canarias Banco over the stock exchange, and Canarias Banco had bought shares from Confederado, and they also had not allocated sufficient credits to certain sectors.

Rodriguez explained that the government did not want its intervention to interfere with “the health of the banking financial system” and as such was carrying it out while the banks remained open and conducted business as usual.

“[Venezuela’s] financial system has enjoyed a significant strengthening and notable stability, owing to the control, monitoring, and continuity that the Superintendent of Banks (Sudeban), the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV), and others have carried out,” Rodriguez said.

Edgar Hernandez, Superintendent of Banks, said the interventionist measures taken by the government were aimed at protecting the banks’ clients.

Also on Friday, Venezuelan authorities arrested businessman Ricardo Fernandez, the main stockholder in all of the four banks that were taken over. He was arrested under the law against organised crime and the general banking and financial institutions law.

Fernandez is also known as the “Tsar of the Mercal”, the government run subsidised food market, as, according to Noticiero Digital and other news sources, he put his network of over 3,000 cargo trucks at the service of the government to distribute food during the petrol strikes in 2002, and also owns two companies, Proarepa and Pronutrico, which provide wheat and other products to the Mercals, as well as owning around 40 other companies.

Some sources report him as being “the only businessman [President Hugo] Chavez will answer his phone for” and call him part of the “Boliburguesia”, meaning a businessperson who supports and benefits from the Bolivarian revolution.

According to YVKE Mundial, Fernandez turned up voluntarily, with his lawyers, at the headquarters of Intelligence and Prevention Services (DISIP), after police looked for him at his house and didn’t find him there.

Speaking at the Venezuelan United Socialist Party (PSUV) Congress yesterday, Chavez said that any private bank that breaks the law would be taken over.

“[Involved] are a bunch of really rich people who start off by buying a bank, then another and another, and they invest here and there, and they are called up and they aren’t able to show where the resources came from, and furthermore they are breaking the national laws,” he added.