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UPDATE 1-U.S. slaps sanctions on firms moving Venezuelan oil to Cuba

(Adds details on trade flows Venezuela-Cuba)

WASHINGTON, Sept 24 (Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury Department said on Tuesday it was imposing sanctions on four maritime companies for transporting Venezuelan oil to Cuba in violation of a previous round of sanctions.

Despite tough U.S. measures against Venezuela's state-owned oil company PDVSA in January, Cuba's state-run oil import and export company Cubametales and other Cuba-based entities "have continued to circumvent sanctions by receiving oil shipments from Venezuela," the Treasury said in a statement.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the United States was continuing to take action against Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro, whom Washington considers an illegitimate ruler.

"Venezuela's oil belongs to the Venezuelan people, and should not be used as a bargaining tool to prop up dictators and prolong the usurpation of Venezuelan democracy," Mnuchin said in the statement.

One of the sanctioned entities is Cyprus-based Caroil Transport Marine Ltd and three vessels it operates, the Carlota C, Sandino and Petion, for allegedly carrying Venezuelan oil and fuel to Cuba.

Two Panama-based groups, Trocana World Inc and Tovase Development Corp, were sanctioned for owning the three tankers. A third Panamanian firm, Bluelane Overseas SA, was also sanctioned along with a vessel it owns called the Giralt.

"As a result of today's action, all property and interests in property of these entities, that are in the United States ... are blocked and must be reported to the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)," the statement said.

OFAC's regulations prohibit transactions by U.S. citizens or companies within the United States that involve interests in blocked or designated persons.

Tankers Petion and Sandino were bought a decade ago by a Cuba-Venezuela transportation firm, Transalba, to carry Venezuelan oil to Cuba as part of a wide bilateral agreement signed by late Presidents Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro.

Even though oil trade between Venezuelan and Cuba has not ceased amid sanctions, the flow of PDVSA's oil has not been enough to keep the Communist-ruled island well supplied.

Cubans have been facing long lines at gas stations and for public transportation amid what Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel has described as a lack of vessels to receive fuel imports.

The Treasury also delisted firms Serenity Maritime Limited, Lima Shipping Corp and the vessel Leon Dias, flagged by Panama, and New Hellas, flagged by Greece, which allegedly had links to the Venezuela-Cuba oil trade.

The firms had earlier discontinued business with Cubametales, according to the Treasury. (Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington and Marianna Parraga in Mexico City; Editing by David Gregorio and Tom Brown)