BRUSSELS/CARACAS - The European Union on Monday announced new sanctions on seven senior Venezuelan officials, saying this was an expression of the bloc's concern with the political crisis under President Nicolas Maduro.
The move introduces a travel ban and an asset freeze on people in charge of security forces accused of widespread abuses, particularly during the 2017 anti-government protests.
The country is undergoing a major economic and social crisis, with millions suffering food and medicine shortages, hyperinflation and growing insecurity.
Those on the EU's list include former National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, Interior Minister Nestor Reverol and Chief Justice Maikel Moreno.
Reuters reported in November that Moreno was arrested in the late 1980s on suspicion of killing a teenager, recorded allegedly attempting to persuade a judge to free a suspected drug and arms trafficker, and found in contempt of court.
Reuters found no evidence Moreno was ever tried or convicted of any criminal charges.
In a brief text-message exchange with Reuters on November 7, Moreno said the allegations of jail time, long rumored in Venezuela, were "invented" by sensationalists. He did not respond to additional questions by text about his career or other episodes in which he was accused of wrongdoing.
While the EU already has an arms embargo in place on Venezuela, it has not considered imposing an oil embargo or blacklisting Maduro himself.
Venezuelan authorities slammed the move.
"Today the European Union has again shown irrefutable evidence of its notable subordination to the racist government of (U.S. President) Donald Trump," Venezuela's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
"These decisions show an interventionist and erroneous policy toward our country and are reminiscent of the colonial maneuvers of outdated empires."
Oil and related products make up three-quarters of Venezuela's exports to the EU. The country has the world's largest proven oil reserves.
For a list of the officials sanctioned on Monday, please go to: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=OJ%3aL%3a2018%3a016I%3aFULL&from=EN.pdf%23page
Writing by Gabriela Baczynska and Girish Gupta; Editing by William Maclean and Phil Berlowitz.