President Hugo Chavez threatened to expropriate the Venezuelan subsidiary of Spanish banking giant BBVA in a tense telephone conversation Wednesday with the bank's CEO that was broadcast live on radio and television.
"This is very serious. Either you obey the law or hand the bank over to me. Tell me how much the bank is worth, I won't argue with you," Chavez told Banco Provincial CEO Pedro Rodriguez during an event with people affected by what the president termed "mortgage deceit".
Chavez phoned Rodriguez after hearing from a woman who said that bank had rejected her request for a housing loan.
"You're involved in this, like it or not. You can't wash your hands... Face up to your responsibility," Chavez told the CEO.
"Pedro: I'm not going to argue with you anymore," the leftist president said. "Listen, I'm asking you to attend to these people. If you don't have time or can't, then tell me how much the bank costs. I'll buy it from you."
The conversation grew testier when Rodriguez told the president that the bank is not for sale, a response Chavez described as "arrogant".
"Be careful how you respond because you're telling me the bank's not for sale but I can expropriate it right now if I want for the sake of national interest," the president said.
The call ended with Rodriguez agreeing to receive people who had criticised Banco Provincial's service and Chavez instructing Vice President Nicolas Maduro and Attorney General Luisa Ortega to accompany them to the meeting.
In May 2009, Chavez nationalised Banco de Venezuela, buying that institution from Spain's Grupo Santander for just over $1 billion. His government has also taken over several struggling small banks.
The leftist leader also has nationalised companies in the oil, cement, food, telecommunications, steel and power sectors as part of his drive to usher in "socialism of the 21st century."