CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A top Venezuelan official has denied suggestions that a $46 million check found on Iran's former central bank chief when he was detained recently in Germany was going to be used to skirt international economic sanctions against Iran.
Public Banking Minister Rodolfo Marco Torres said Wednesday that the check issued in the local currency known as the bolivar by the state-run Banco de Venezuela was signed by a representative of Iran's Kayson Company, a Tehran-based construction business that is building homes for the Venezuelan government.
Venezuela has developed close ties with Iran under the leadership of Hugo Chavez. Opponents of the Chavez government have suggested that the check may have been issued to skirt international economic sanctions in place against Iran for its nuclear program.
But Venezuela's bolivars cannot be traded internationally because of strict currency controls established by the Chavez government. Those restrictions would make it difficult to cash the check outside of the South American country.
Torres denied that the Venezuelan bank was involved in any kind of scandal, telling The Associated Press the check was signed by a representative of Kayson Company, which has a checking account with the bank. "It's a totally transparent operation," he said.
German authorities found the check in the luggage of Tahmasb Mazaheri, a former chief of Iran's central bank and former economy minister, on Feb. 1. Iran's ambassador to Venezuela, Hojattolah Soltani, told the local Globovision television channel last week the check for 300 million Venezuelan bolivars was going to be used by Kayson Company for its expenses while building public housing in the South American country. The ambassador said that Mazaheri has been working as an adviser to the Iranian company.
The check was issued before Venezuela devalued its currency last week, establishing a new exchange rate of 6.30 bolivars to the dollar, replacing the previous rate of 4.30 bolivars. Before check originally was worth $70 million, but its value plummeted to $46 million with the devaluation.
Soltani said that Mazaheri traveled to Iran after leaving Germany, and plans to return to Venezuela. Kayson Company officials are waiting to recover the check seized by German authorities, he said. The Iranian ambassador said that Kayson Company currently has 17,000 homes under construction in Venezuela.