US sanctions foreign officials for corruption, COVID-linked graft

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The US Treasury Department on Thursday targeted government officials and companies it accused of corruption, including officials in El Salvador and Guatemala involved in their countries COVID-19 responses.

Thursday’s action, the latest in a series of sanctions announcements marking the week of President Joe Biden’s democracy summit, targeted 15 individuals and entities across several countries in Central America, Africa and Europe, the Treasury said.

“Corrupt acts take resources from citizens, undermine public trust, and threaten the progress of those who fight for democracy,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

Those targeted include El Salvador’s Chief of Cabinet Martha Carolina Recinos De Bernal, who allegedly headed a scheme to award inflated contracts as part of the country’s coronavirus response, and a Guatemalan health official who engaged in misappropriation of funds.

A raft of sanctions announced on Wednesday also targeted two El Salvador officials Washington accused of leading, facilitating and organising a number of secret meetings with incarcerated leaders of gangs, including the notorious MS-13.

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele hit back on Twitter, writing that US interests abroad had “NOTHING TO DO with democracy.”

Also targeted on Thursday were two South Sudanese construction companies allegedly given preferential treatment by high-level officials in that country, Liberian Senator Prince Yormie Johnson, Ukrainian Andrey Portnov, accused of buying influence in Ukraine’s courts, and two Angolan former officials accused of embezzling billions of dollars.

The State Department on Thursday also announced visa bans on nine individuals it said were involved in significant corruption, and their immediate family members.

US President Biden delivers opening remarks at the Summit for Democracy: