The government of President Hugo Chavez seized control of two of Venezuela's largest coffee processing plants on Monday, threatening to expropriate them if investigations reveal they have illegally smuggled coffee out of the country.
Commerce Minister Eduardo Saman said officials suspect that Fama de America and Madrid may have violated laws preventing companies from circumventing government price controls.
If investigations reveal such violations, Saman said officials will "propose the expropriation" of the plants.
"In that case the workers would take control of the business," Saman told state television, noting that authorities would occupy the plants for three months during the investigations.
Chavez's socialist government is expanding the state's role in the economy as part of its drive toward socialism.
Business owners accuse the government of violating private property rights and sidelining private enterprise.