Venezuela Seizes Millions of Toys, Accuses Importer of Hoarding

  • Price czar says toys will be distributed to poor children
  • Government in past years ordered price cuts before Christmas

Members of the Venezuelan national guard stand next to boxes full of confiscated toys in a warehouse in Caracas on Dec. 9, 2016.

Photographer: Federico Parra/AFP via Getty Images

Venezuela price regulators on Friday seized almost 4 million toys from warehouses around greater Caracas and said they’d distribute them to low income children ahead of the Christmas holiday.

William Contreras, the country’s price czar, accused toy importer Distribuidora Kreisel of hoarding and price gouging and asked that the company’s directors be detained and prohibited from leaving the country. Flanked by national guardsmen, he said the company had received preferential exchange rates for goods it imported as early as 2009 and then raised prices by as much as 50,000 percent.

“These products will be put to use by the Clap,” he said, referring to the government’s community-based network that distributes food to low income residents. “Venezuela’s boys and girls will have their baby Jesus guaranteed, and these companies will learn that they can’t play with the rights of the Venezuelans.”

Triple-digit inflation and a collapsing currency have made many non-essential items out of reach for most Venezuelans, where a monthly minimum wage buys only around $20 on the black market. Government authorities have in the past several years ordered price cuts ahead of the Christmas holiday, and price regulators ordered clothing stores in downtown Caracas to cut prices by 30 percent earlier this week.

In 2013, President Nicolas Maduro accused retailers across the South American nation of price gouging and deployed the military to slash prices at electronics and home appliance stores. The event became coined the “Dakazo,” after the socialist leader ordered an electronics chain called Daka to slash its merchandise prices to “fair” levels and liquidate their inventory on live television.

Since then, Venezuela’s government has cracked down on prices across the entire economy -- everything from eggs to children shoes -- levying sanctions or confiscating the merchandise of business owners who don’t comply.

Calls placed to Distribuidora Kreisel after normal business hours on Friday evening weren’t answered.

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