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In wake of scandal, Venezuela freezes support money for drivers

Oct 19, 2013, 1:45 PM EDT

E.J. Viso AP

The government of Venezuela has frozen all disbursements of hard currency for race car and motorcycle drivers who compete internationally, according to a report from Jorge Rueda of The Associated Press.

One of the drivers affected is Andretti Autosport’s E.J. Viso, who was said to have been “ill” and mentioned trying to recover from food poisoning in a tweet yesterday. Colombian driver Carlos Munoz has taken over Viso’s No. 5 Chevrolet – which features backing from Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA – for tonight’s MAV TV 500 at Auto Club Speedway.

According to Rueda’s report, Venezuelan officials are investigating a sports currency scandal stemming from its Cadivi state agency, which is in charge of helping Venezuelan businesses abroad obtain currency.

Sports Minister Alejandra Benitez told a local newspaper that an initial investigation of the disbursements found that one unnamed driver received $66 million and that her signature had been forged on 60 disbursement files for hard currency.

The freeze on these disbursements could have a major effect on many Venezuelan racers around the world, as according to Rueda, Benitez mentioned that more than 98 percent of her foreign competition budget goes toward motor sports efforts.

Venezuela helps support programs in a variety of disciplines such as IndyCar, sports car racing, and Formula One, where Williams driver Pastor Maldonado, like Viso, also receives support from the PDVSA oil group.

The death of longtime Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in March had been seen as potentially having severe consequences for Venezuela’s drivers, and the country’s economy has gone on a downward slide since then. However, PDVSA noted shortly after Chavez’s death that its support of Maldonado would continue.

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