US court dismisses Venezualan central bank suit over publication of black market currency rates

Source: Dollar Today

A U.S. District Court on Friday dismissed a lawsuit filed by the government of Venezuela, through its state-controlled Central Bank, aimed at shuttering DolarToday.com, a U.S.-based media outlet.

DolarToday.com aggregates and reports news and information about Venezuela’s social, political, and economic affairs, including an unofficial, black market bolivar-to-dollar exchange rate.

Ricardo A. Gonzalez, a litigation shareholder at the Miami office of international law firm Greenberg Traurig who represents DolarToday, explained:

“The Central Bank’s complaint, filed in October 2015, claims the Delaware corporation publishes phony exchange rates designed to destabilize Venezuela’s economy and derive a profit for DolarToday. Accusing DolarToday of sabotage and cyber-terrorism, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has blamed the website for the country’s plummeting bolivar currency and skyrocketing inflation, which the International Monetary Fund expects to hit 720 percent this year (up from 275 percent in 2015).

“DolarToday, a popular Spanish-language Venezuelan news site and vociferous opponent of Maduro, has maintained that it simply publishes the exchange rate and does not sell currency or serve as a foreign exchange. In a two-page order, U.S. District Judge Gregory M. Sleet agreed with DolarToday’s motion to dismiss on the basis that the complaint lacks standing, a basic requirement for lawsuits in U.S. court. The complaint, he ruled, fails to show that the site’s publication of the exchange rate leads to inflation and harms the Central Bank. He gave the plaintiff seven days to submit an amendment to the complaint.

“While the Venezuelan government has made it illegal for anyone to publish black market currency rates in Venezuela and has blocked DolarToday’s website from the Internet in that country, Venezuelans access the DolarToday rate on DolarToday’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

“Venezuela’s oil slump has created a financial meltdown that has made it almost impossible to get dollars anywhere but the black market. U.S. dollars, which are officially sold by the government at 10 bolivars and 200 bolivars per dollar, were selling this week on the black market for 1093 bolivars per US dollar.

“The Central Bank’s complaint is the latest round in the Venezuelan government’s three-year campaign of censorship and harassment against DolarToday and its alleged owners. In addition to blocking and hacking DolarToday’s website, the Venezuelan government has broadcast several nationally televised speeches in which Venezuelan President Maduro denounced the owners of DolarToday as criminals who are waging an ‘economic war’ against Venezuela from the U.S., vowing to have them extradited and jailed in Venezuela.

“We hope the Revolutionary Government will heed the court’s order and discontinue its systemic pattern of using DolarToday as a scapegoat for its own failings and harassing DolarToday and the individual defendants, including by filing lawsuits against them that do not satisfy even the most basic elements required to maintain a civil action in the courts of the United States.”

Ben Wolkov, general counsel for DolarToday, said: “The court’s dismissal of this baseless lawsuit deals a major blow to the self-proclaimed Revolutionary Government of Venezuela's ongoing mission to retain its dwindling grip on power and attempt to silence anyone who reports the truth on Venezuela’s troubled economy. As a U.S.-based media outlet with rights to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, DolarToday will continue to focus on its dual mission of informing Venezuelans about the country’s social, political, and economic affairs and serving as a credible and authoritative source for other media outlets attempting to report on Venezuela.”
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