Cyprus Mail

Venezuela oil minister resigns, police arrest officials in corruption sweep

A boat with workers is seen at an oil field at Venezuela's western Maracaibo lake November 5, 2007. REUTERS/Isaac Urrutia (VENEZUELA)/File Photo

Venezuela’s oil minister Tareck El Aissami said on Monday he will resign and at least six officials were arrested following investigations by police into corruption, including at state-owned oil company PDVSA.

“In light of the investigations that have begun about serious occurrences of corruption at PDVSA, I have taken the decision to present my resignation as Minister of Oil, with the intent to support, accompany and totally back this process,” El Aissami, who has been minister since 2020, said on Twitter.

Venezuelan anti-graft police have arrested a mayor, two judges and three government officials, at least two of whom are connected with PDVSA, in connection with alleged corruption, state television and sources familiar with the matter said earlier on Monday.

Arresting government officials for corruption is rare in Venezuela, which rights groups such as Transparency International have described as opaque.

El Aissami has been under U.S. sanctions since 2017 for alleged connections to drug trafficking, which he denies.

According to three sources familiar with the case, those arrested include Colonel Antonio Perez, a former vice president in charge of commerce and supply at Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA).

Two of the sources said authorities also arrested Colonel Samuel Testamarck, general manager of PDVSA’s maritime arm PDV Marina.

One of the sources said the PDVSA arrests were linked to an investigation into oil cargoes leaving the country without due payment to the company, and that other executives have been suspended from their posts.

Neither PDVSA nor the State Prosecutor’s office immediately responded to a request for comment.

Earlier on Monday, state TV had announced the arrest of Joselit Ramirez, the former head of the country’s crypto-asset watchdog, and Mayor Pedro Hernandez of Las Tejerias, an area hit by floods that killed dozens late last year.

Judges Cristobal Cornieles and Jose Marquez Garcia were also detained, the broadcaster said, without disclosing any details.

On Sunday, the State Prosecutor’s office said it had appointed five prosecutors to investigate what it called “crimes corresponding to different branches of government and involving strategic sectors for national development.” It did not give more details.

Ramirez had since 2018 led the Sunacrip crypto-assets authority, which issues Venezuela’s official digital coin, the petro. According to a statement in the official gazette on Saturday, he was dismissed.

Pro-government newspaper Ultimas Noticias reported that Ramirez is under investigation for cases linked to PDVSA.

The arrests mark one of the largest crackdowns since 2017, when the Prosecutor’s Office carried out months of sweeps, arresting several executives and two former presidents of PDVSA.

In 2018, authorities also arrested several PDVSA executives for administrative irregularities which affected the operations of crude upgraders.

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