By Vivian Sequera and Elida Moreno
CARACAS/PANAMA CITY (Reuters) – Venezuela said on Thursday it was halting commercial relations with Panamanian officials and companies, including regional airline Copa, for alleged involvement in money laundering, prompting both countries to recall their ambassadors.
The resolution names Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and nearly two dozen Cabinet ministers and top-ranking officials, and says that Panama’s financial system had been used by Venezuelan nationals involved in acts of corruption.
The individuals named in the resolution “present an imminent risk to the (Venezuelan) financial system, the stability of commerce in the country, and the sovereignty and economic independence of the Venezuelan people,” Venezuela said.
The statement came a week after Panama declared Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and some 50 Venezuelan nationals as “high risk” for laundering money and financing terrorism.
Venezuela’s civil aviation authority said in a statement that inbound and outbound Copa flights were suspended for 90 days, effective Friday, “as a measure to protect the Venezuelan financial system.”
Copa, a crucial provider of international flights following a sharp reduction in airline services to crisis-stricken Venezuela, did not respond to a request for comment.
Panama announced it was recalling its ambassador to Venezuela and asked that Caracas follow suit, which it did several hours later.
Panama’s Varela, in brief comments to reporters on Thursday, described the Venezuelan announcement as nonsensical.
“We have not heard anything about breaking relations but rather about a set of supposed sanctions – it’s gibberish,” Varela said.
Venezuela has been hit with sanctions by Canada, the United States and a number of other countries over issues ranging from human rights violations to corruption and drug trafficking.
Maduro says the country is victim of an “economic war” led by his adversaries with the help of Washington, and says the sanctions are part of foreign countries’ efforts to undermine his government.
(Additional reporting by Caracas newsroom; editing by G Crosse and Leslie Adler)