CARACAS – The government of President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday nullified Venezuela’s newly named Citgo board amid a political battle for control of the country, saying opposition leaders had no right to appoint them.
The struggle for control of the nation’s most valuable foreign assets comes as Maduro fends off opposition leader Juan Guaido, whose claim to Venezuela’s presidency is backed by the United States and more than 50 other nations.
The opposition-run National Assembly appointed the 15-member Citgo board early this year after Guaido declared presidential powers, arguing Maduro’s presidency is illegitimate. Maduro maintains power with backing from the military and allies such as Cuba, Russia and China.
Citgo is valued at an estimated $8 billion and includes three refineries, in Louisiana, Texas and Illinois, in addition to a network of pipelines. Citgo is also at the center of court battles, such a lawsuit filed by Canadian mining firm Crystallex, following a disputed takeover of the company by the late-President Hugo Chavez.
State comptroller Elvis Amoroso, who made the announcement on state TV, also said the ad-hoc board members are banned from leaving the country and their Venezuelan bank accounts have been frozen, although it’s unclear whether any of them continue to live in the South American country.
Amoroso also said that five leading figures opposed to Maduro were banned from politics for 15 years. They including former Attorney General Luisa Ortega, former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and three opposition lawmakers.