Venezuela arrests hundreds of currency 'speculators'

Caracas (AFP) –


Venezuelan authorities ordered more than 600 arrests over the last eight months for "speculation" on the currency market, Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced Thursday.

Saab told reporters in Caracas that 70 arrest warrants had been issued since August for "illegal transactions."

Crisis-torn Venezuela's socialist government has cracked down heavily on perceived breaches of strict currency exchange regulations, in place since 2003.

Saab said transactions were driven by "illegal" exchange houses in a dozen countries, mostly in Colombia and the United States "dedicated to attacking" the local currency, the bolivar.

President Nicolas Maduro said his country -- where years of economic crisis has sparked an exodus of two million people -- was the victim of an "economic war" waged by opposition and the United States.

Saab said 255 people had been brought before the courts and more than 3,000 bank accounts had been blocked.

Illegal transactions were stopping up to $200 million from entering the formal economy every month, Saab said.