Nicaragua nationalizes fuel firm 2 days after US sanctions

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Nicaragua nationalized the fuel distribution company DNP on Saturday, two days after U.S. authorities sanctioned the firm for allegedly being used by President Daniel Ortega’s family for personal enrichment through non-competitive contracts with government institutions.

The bill was fast-tracked and approved by a parliament dominated by Ortega allies and took effect minutes later with its publication in the official Gazette. It declares the fuel and other assets of the company, formally known as Empresa Distribuidora de Petroleo, a matter of “citizen security and national interest” and allows the government to manage them confidentially.

The government said the measure seeks to “guarantee the reliable, continuous, efficient, secure, adequate and uninterrupted supply of fuel and petroleum derivative products.”

Opposition lawmaker Azucena Castillo called it a move “to continue laundering money.” She likened it to the dissolution of the bank Banco Corporativo in April after it was sanctioned by Washington for purported illicit transfers of funds to Venezuela.

José Pallais, leader of the opposition group Civic Alliance, argued that the measure amounts to state “indemnization” for Ortega and his allies in the face of the sanctions.

“With this law, the Assembly is hurriedly trying to avoid that the Ortega family loses what has been invested in the inventories of fuels and petroleums,” Pallais said.

Washington announced its most recent sanctions Thursday targeting Rafael Antonio Ortega Murillo, the president’s son, for his alleged role in money laundering and corruption. It also targeted Inversiones Zanzibar SA and Servicio De Proteccion y Vigilancia SA, which Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin called two companies the younger Ortega “owns and uses to launder money to prop up the Ortega regime at the expense of the Nicaraguan people.”

Nicaragua’s president travelled Saturday to Havana for a summit of the leftist regional bloc known as ALBA.

According to the bill passed Saturday, the fuel and other crude derivatives belonging to DNP will be administered by companies designated by the government.

The U.S. sanctions bar DNP from having transactions with oil companies and banks in the United States.

“The sanctions have hit the pockets of the Ortega-Murillos hard,” opposition leader Félix Maradiaga tweeted, alluding to the family of Ortega and first lady and Vice-President Rosario Murillo. “DNP and Inversiones Zanzibar were the goose with the golden eggs in the lucrative oil and energy industry.”

Gabriela Selser, The Associated Press