Venezuela’s attorney general says 21 people, including senior government officials and business leaders of President Nicolás Maduro, have been arrested in connection with a corruption scheme related to international oil sales.
CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s attorney general said Saturday that 21 people, including top government officials and business leaders of President Nicolás Maduro, have been arrested in connection with a corruption scheme related to international oil sales.
Prosecutor Tarek William Saab said the alleged scheme involved the sale of Venezuelan oil through the country’s cryptocurrency watchdog agency, parallel to state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela SA.
The watchdog agency allegedly signed contracts to load crude oil onto ships “without any administrative checks or guarantees,” in violation of the law, Saab said, but did not specify the quantities involved. After the oil was put on the market, “adequate payments” were not made to the state-owned oil company.
The attorney general’s statement comes five days after Venezuela’s once-influential oil minister, Tareck El Aissami, resigned amid accusations of corruption among some of his closest associates.
El Aissami said he resigned to “accompany and fully support” the investigation. El Aissami, who was one of Maduro’s trusted ministers, has not yet been charged.
The United States government designated El Aissam as a drug kingpin in 2017 for his activities in his previous positions as Secretary of the Interior and Governor. El Aissami’s resignation was announced two days after the Public Ministry appointed five prosecutors to investigate alleged crimes by the National Anti-Corruption Police.
According to the Attorney General, the 10 officials arrested include Col. Antonio Pérez Suárez, PDVSA’s vice president of commercial and quality assurance; Hugbel Roa, former Minister of Food; and Joselit Ramírez, National Supervisor of Cryptocurrencies.
11 businessmen were also arrested and charged with embezzlement or embezzlement of public property, influence peddling, money laundering and criminal conspiracy, Saab said, adding that the crime of treason against the country will also be added to the charges against the public officials.
Corruption has long been rampant in Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil reserves. But officials are rarely held accountable — a major irritant to citizens, most of whom live on $1.90 a day, the international measure of extreme poverty.