Crime & Justice

Venezuelan anticorruption drive nabs dozens of officials

By Hector Pereira

Caracas, Apr 17 (EFE).- Venezuela’s largest anti-corruption operation has been under way for a month now and during that time 58 people – most of them government officials – have been put behind bars for their alleged links to a colossal embezzlement scheme that state prosecutors are trying to uncover and quantify, with new elements of the huge network being revealed each day.

On March 17, the Anticorruption Police, a body about which Venezuelans had heard practically nothing up to that point, issued a statement asking the Attorney General’s Office to investigate certain officials, without specifying how many or who, for “being involved in serious deeds of administrative corruption and diversion of funds.”

The short text resulted in a series of corruption accusations that toppled Petroleum Minister Tareck El Aissami, who resigned, along with assorted judges, businessmen and public managers who have ended up in prison, and including a lawmaker, a mayor and a former cabinet minister.

Once the names of the first people implicated were announced, state-run VTV television showed images of them dressed in orange prison jumpsuits appearing in court to hear the charges against them, a move in the style of the United States for presenting recently arrested people and something that had not been seen before in the South American country.

That dynamic has been repeated a number of times over the past four weeks, always about midnight, after which the AG’s Office updates via Twitter the tally of arrested people, along with how many are being sought by law enforcement and any raids that have been carried out on the residences of those implicated in the corruption network. The figures, however, do not include the number or amount of assets confiscated or provide a running total of how much money has been embezzled or diverted into the pockets of the suspects.

Each morning, the justice system has been scheduling trials for those arrested in the anticorruption drive the judiciary says is being headed by President Nicolas Maduro, who has promised to apply “the full weight of punishment” against the dozens of officials nabbed so far.

“There will be no coexistence or complicity, that I promise,” he emphasized.

And although Attorney General Tarek William Saab has made assorted statements on the matter, authorities are refusing to estimate the losses to state coffers in the illicit enrichment schemes.

Saab and Maduro are maintaining their silence about El Aissami, who up until a month ago served as the vice president for the economy and at the end of 2022 hailed the signing of contracts with Chevron despite being designated by the United States as one of the figures most-wanted for international drug trafficking.

The former minister resigned his petroleum portfolio three days after the anti-corruption campaign kicked off and, in a brief Twitter post, he announced that he would cooperate with the authorities in their investigation, something that Maduro confirmed that same day, the only time the president has mentioned the former official.

Since then, an endless stream of rumors have been circulating about El Aissami’s fate without the government saying anything more about him, an information gap that has served to accelerate the unofficial versions concerning him and apparently due, in part, to the lag by the AG’s Office in reporting the progress of the investigation, with many of the government’s actions being announced by local media outlets hours or even days before the government gets around to it.

The investigation has uncovered several of the corruption monster’s heads, a situation that confirms the complaints made by in recent years unions and members of the opposition about the poor management of public funds in several state-run companies and institutions, where the majority of the workers earn less than $50 per month.

The biggest corruption racket has been revealed within the state-run Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), Venezuela’s oil company, and the Superintendency of Cryptocurrencies, with 99 raids being conducted so far, while authorities have detected other corrupt practices within the Venezuelan Guayana Corporation (CVG), a conglomerate of mining, forestry and electrical companies, and in the state-run Cartones de Venezuela, a paper products firm.

In addition, the Anticorruption Police have turned over stones even within the judicial branch, where they have exposed a plot that so far has resulted in six arrest warrants and six raids, operations that have been repeated in at least two city halls.

According to unofficial estimates, the amount of money diverted throughout the whole network totals several billion dollars and Maduro has ordered that “everything confiscated” from corrupt officials and drug traffickers be handed over to the police so that they can use it in their work to guarantee citizen safety and security.

EFE hp/bp

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