(Adds central bank comment)
By Corina Pons and Brian Ellsworth
CARACAS, June 22 (Reuters) - Venezuela’s central bank is seeking to sell fixed-income securities to Nomura Holdings Inc as a way of raising cash amid an economic crisis, an opposition deputy and a finance industry source said on Thursday, only weeks after a similar deal embroiled the Japanese bank in controversy.
Opposition legislators this month publicly chided Nomura for participating along with Goldman Sachs Group Inc in a $2.9 billion bond operation that helped the government of President Nicolas Maduro bolster the country’s flagging foreign currency reserves.
The talks revolve around $710 million in securities known as credit-linked notes that were issued by Nomura to Venezuela in 2008, according to the finance industry source, as a way for the then-prosperous OPEC member country to invest its plentiful oil revenue.
Venezuela, struggling under triple-digit inflation and Soviet-style product shortages as its socialist economy unravels, is willing to sell the notes back to Nomura at a discount before the notes mature.
“Nomura is buying back notes that are held by the central bank,” opposition legislator Angel Alvarado, who is part of a broad effort to pressure global banks not to provide financing to Venezuela, told Reuters.
“The government is continuing with its desperate strategy of selling off assets because its cash-flow limitations.”
Nomura declined to comment. Venezuela’s Central Bank Governor Ricardo Sanguino said it was not in negotiations with Nomura.
“That is false, we are not doing it,” Sanguino told Reuters after a news conference. “No central bank reveals its strategies.”
Venezuela has recently negotiated such deals through intermediaries.
One of the notes has a face value of $390 million and matures at the end of 2018 while the other, with a face value of $320 million, matures in 2023, according to the finance industry source, who asked not to be identified.
“The deal could be closed as early as next week,” said the source, who asked not to be identified.
The notes form part of a central bank portfolio of securities that have a combined total of $2.5 billion that Venezuela hopes to use to raise funds through operations with Wall Street, the source said.
Nomura in May bought $100 million in bonds issued by state oil company PDVSA at a discount of almost 70 percent, while Goldman Sachs acquired another $2.8 billion on similar terms.
The bonds were issued in 2014 but remained on the central bank’s books without being sold until May.
Alvarado on Thursday published letters by Congress chief Julio Borges to U.S. regulatory agencies including the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) asking for a probe into Nomura and Goldman for the May bond operation.
The letter says that two intermediaries were involved in the operation - Commonwealth Bank of the Caribbean island of Dominica and London-based brokerage Dinosaur.
“The pricing and spread paid by each institution to Dinosaur suggest price fixing and above-market commissions,” read the letters. “We believe there is enough evidence to open an investigation against Goldman Sachs and Nomura.”
Goldman did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the calls for an investigation. Nomura and the SEC declined to comment on the probe.
Following the uproar over its purchase of PDVSA bonds in May, Goldman issued a statement that cited the presence of an intermediary in the operation, noting that it therefore did not directly do business with the Venezuelan government.
Borges’ letters describes this argument as “subterfuge” because neither institution has the financial resources for such an operation.
Venezuela’s debt burden has taken a heavy toll on the population as foreign currency needed to import food medicine and raw material for factories is being set aside to pay bondholders.
The country’s yields are among the highest in the world due to investor concern about default. Maduro says default concerns are the product of a smear campaign by adversaries and insists the country will honor its obligations.
Additional reporting by Davide Scigluzzio in New York and Deisy Buitrago in Caracas; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Richard Chang