Venezuela’s PDVSA oil company under investigation for corruption

By Sarai Coscojuela

Caracas, Mar 28 (EFE).- The Venezuelan government has launched an investigation to determine the responsibility of top officials for alleged acts of corruption involving state-run oil company PDVSA, a situation that has been repeated on several occasions since at least 2016.

Diosdado Cabello, the first vice president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and the No. 2 man in the Chavista regime, said that authorities want to “attack” any act of corruption in any part of the government because, he claimed, nobody fights corruption like the government.

Corruption within the petroleum firm has been investigated by assorted authorities outside the judiciary since 2016, including the National Assembly (AN, the country’s parliament), when the opposition held a majority there.

Then, anti-Chavista lawmakers determined that there had been a series of irregularities in the management of public funds between 2004 and 2016 involving former PDVSA president and ex-Petroleum Minister Rafael Ramirez, who occupied the post between 2004-2014, and they approved mounting an investigation.

But the process was later cancelled by the Supreme Court of Justice (TJS).

In 2017, a change in the government’s stance occurred with the Attorney General’s Office arresting a number of managers of PDVSA and affiliated companies for corruption.

In addition, Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced a “criminal investigation” of Ramirez over certain documents that “directly” incriminated him in “intermediary operations in the buying and selling of petroleum.”

Saab said at the time that the investigations were part of the inquiry being undertaken by the AG’s Office regarding the use of the Banca Privada Andorra (Private Bank of Andorra) to launder some 4.2 billion euros ($4.55 billion).

Regarding this case, the AG also pointed to former deputy energy minister Nervis Villalobos, who is currently incarcerated in Spain, to Diego Salazar, a cousin of Ramirez, and to Jose Enrique Luongo, the latter two of whom have been under arrest in Venezuela since 2017.

In 2020, Venezuela issued an extradition request for Ramirez – which was rejected by Italy’s Supreme Court in January 2021 – over renting a foreign ship for $1.175 billion to exploit natural gas, but the vessel worked at less than half its operating capacity for seven years, causing losses to Venezuela.

In 2022, the AG’s Office issued a new extradition request for Ramirez, who is accused of having stolen $4.85 billion via a fraudulent line of credit with which PDVSA made 28 payments to two foreign funds without having received any loans from them.

The AG said that arrest orders has also been requested for former legal advisor Juan Andres Wallis; businessmen Luis Alberto Anselmi, Ignacio Oberto Anselmi and Leopoldo Betancourt Lopez; and for former PDVSA director Abraham Ortega.

Eulogio del Pino, Ramirez’s successor, was also accused of corruption and in 2017 he was arrested and charged with large-scale embezzlement and obstruction of free trade.

At that time, according to a source within the AG’s Office contacted by EFE, legal proceedings were brought against another 12 top officials within PDVSA who “admitted their actions” and pleaded guilty in a corruption plot inside the oil giant.

Arrested along with Del Pino for these crimes were Nelson Martinez, another former PDVSA chief, who died in December 2018 in state custody “of heart problems,” according to what Cabello said at the time.

The Transparencia Venezuela non-governmental organization has tallied 127 cases of alleged corruption of irregular management of public funds in PDVSA or its affiliates, whereby – according to the NGO’s figures – more than $42 billion was embezzled or stolen over the past 20 years.

The AG’s Office, which does not always announce the amount of money embezzled in its cases, recently said that since August 2017 31 corruption plots linked to the petroleum industry have been uncovered, in which a total of 75 people have been convicted.

EFE sc/bp

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