SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria has blocked transfers out of several bank accounts which have received millions of euros from Venezuela's state-run oil company PDVSA (Petroleos de Venezuela), security officials said on Wednesday.
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido assumed presidency of the country three weeks ago, arguing that Nicolas Maduro's re-election last year was a sham. The United States and most Western countries, including Bulgaria, have recognised Guaido as the legitimate head of state, but Maduro retains the backing of Russia and China and control of state institutions.
Acting on a tip-off from the U.S., Bulgaria's security services were checking accounts held at a local bank, by a man who had several citizenships, including a Bulgarian one, Bulgaria's chief prosecutor, Sotir Tsatsarov said.
The money that came into the accounts was being sent to accounts abroad, Tsatsarov told reporters after a meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Sofia at the government building.
"We have established that there were money transfers from Venezuela, namely from the state oil company of Venezuela to these accounts," Tsatsarov told reporters.
"All measures have been taken so that the funds that are still in the accounts, which are not in small amounts, will be fully under our control and not leave the country on false grounds," he said.
There are millions of euros in the accounts, according to the head of the State National Security Agency, Dimitar Georgiev, who said the Bulgarian central bank was cooperating in the process.
Prosecutors will be looking at all the transfers into and out of these accounts before deciding whether to raise money laundering charges, Tsatsarov said, adding that the bank itself was not under suspicion.
"Our government is working very closely with Bulgaria and other members of European Union to ensure that the wealth of the people of Venezuela is not stolen," the U.S. ambassador to Sofia, Eric Rubin, said after the meeting.
PDVSA is looking to increase exports to places like India as U.S. sanctions, designed to cut off the flow of foreign currency to Maduro's government, hobble its deliveries to the United States and Europe.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova and Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)