Venezuela authorities probe drug store chain amid shortages

AP News
Posted: Feb 02, 2015 4:41 PM
Venezuela authorities probe drug store chain amid shortages

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Two executives for Venezuela's largest drugstore chain were being held Monday as part of an investigation by price-control authorities into illegal practices contributing to the country's chronic shortages.

A manager for the Farmatodo company said the two executives taken into custody over the weekend have not been informed by intelligence agents carrying out the interrogation what they are accused of. The manager insisted on anonymity to discuss the matter, because of a lack of authorization to talk about the case publicly.

Without naming Farmatodo, President Nicolas Maduro on Sunday blasted the owners of a major retail chain that he accused of conspiring with opponents to wage an "economic war" against his socialist government. He said the arrested retail executives are behind long lines and panic buying of essential goods that have plagued Venezuela in recent weeks.

Farmatodo said in a statement that its actions are transparent and that its 167 stores nationwide have been inspected numerous times in recent months by the government.

Economists and critics blame rigid price and currency controls, saying the rules make it impossible for businesses to import and produce at a profit and also encourage large-scale smuggling of government-subsidized goods to nearby countries.

Several critics warned that any government takeover of Farmatodo would have dire consequences for the economy.

"We're talking about ending what little is left" of private enterprise in the economy, former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said on Twitter.