July 23 (UPI) -- The Trump administration on Thursday announced it has blacklisted two brothers close to the family of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, accusing them of supporting his regime.
In a statement, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions against Santiago Jose Moron Hernandez and Ricardo Jose Moron Hernandez, freezing all their property and assets in the United States while barring under threat of sanctions U.S. citizens from doing business with them.
"The United States is holding the Moron brothers accountable for their role in corruption," U.S. Secretary of Statement Mike Pompeo said via Twitter. "We will continue to do the same for any who seek to line the pockets of the corrupt Maduro regime and themselves, robbing the Venezuelan people of a future."
Jorge Arreaza, Venezuela's foreign minister, rejected the sanctions on Twitter, calling the Trump administration "nothing more than a supremacist sect that aims to rule the world based on arbitrary sanctions and fictitious narratives."
The United States has been ratcheting up its pressure on Maduro to step down since early last year when the Venezuelan National Assembly, one of the few Democratic institutions left in the socialist country, deemed his 2018 re-election illegitimate.
A coalition of more than 50 mostly Western nations led by the Trump administration has put their support behind opposition leader, and head of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido who has named himself interim president until democratic elections can be held.
Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chavez following his death in 2013, has managed to cling to power against increasing U.S. and international pressure due to the help of Cuba, Russia and China.
The Treasury Department said Thursday that the Moron brothers are "trusted partners" of the Venezuelan president and his son, Nicolas Ernesto Maduro Guerra, accusing the pair of distributing assets throughout the world on their behalves through the use of several companies.
Santiago, the younger brother at 36 years of age, is being blacklisted for being Maduro Guerra's principal assistant who regularly provides him with material assistance, sponsorship and financial, material or technological support.
Ricardo, 37, is being designated for providing similar services to senior officials within the Venezuelan government.
"While the Venezuelan people suffer, the illegitimate Maduro regime has focused its efforts on retaining its grip on power," said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. "The United States is committed to targeting individuals who facilitate and enable this corrupt regime as they continue to ignore the welfare of the Venezuelan people."
The brothers, the Treasury said, are also central in Venezuela's gold industry, accusing them of conducting illicit transactions, including the sale of gold mined in Venezuela and dispatched from the country's central bank, which the United States designated in 2019.
"By enabling an illicit gold scheme and other blatant public corruption, these two men have turned a blind eye to the suffering of the people of Venezuela who are the victims of their corrupt enterprise," Pompeo said in a statement, adding that the sanctions reaffirm the United States' commitment to "promoting accountability for all those who facilitate corruption inside Venezuela."