LatinNews Daily - 21 March 2023

VENEZUELA: Oil minister resigns amid sweeping corruption probe

On 20 March, Venezuela’s oil minister, Tareck El Aissami, resigned amid a corruption probe.


El Aissami, who also served as vice president from 2017-2018, is the most powerful figure to have fallen in relation to a sweeping corruption probe in recent days. Whilst he has not been publicly accused of wrongdoing, he said that he was stepping aside in light of a corruption probe into state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (Pdvsa). Over 20 people have reportedly been arrested in recent days as part of the probe, which according to Reuters is centred around oil shipments which departed Venezuela without payment to Pdvsa.  

  • The anti-corruption sweep comes after the national police announced on 17 March that “a series of individuals” working in “the judiciary, the oil industry and in some mayoralties” are suspected of “serious acts of administrative corruption and embezzlement”.
  • Although he has not been named as a target of the investigation or publicly accused of wrongdoing, El Aissami yesterday tweeted that “in light of the investigations that have been launched into grave acts of corruption at Pdvsa, I’ve taken the decision to present my resignation as oil minister in order to support, accompany and fully back this process”.
  • On 19 March, Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced that “a group of public servants” had been arrested on suspicion of corruption, and yesterday said that further arrest warrants could be issued in relation to the Pdvsa investigation.
  • According to sources cited by Reuters, the corruption charges relate to oil shipments which departed Venezuela without payment to Pdvsa. These shipments were reportedly the reason for a suspension of oil exports in January while an audit of export contracts was carried out on the orders of Pdvsa’s new president, Colonel Pedro Rafael Tellechea. Tellechea took the helm of the company on 6 January, replacing Asdrúbal Chávez – the cousin of the late former president Hugo Chávez (1999-2013).
  • Over 20 people have reportedly been arrested in relation to the corruption probe, including Joselit Ramírez, the president of Venezuela’s cryptocurrency regulator (Sunacrip); Pedro Hernández, the mayor of Santos Michelena municipality in Aragua state; Colonel Antonio Pérez, former vice president of supply and trade at Pdvsa; Colonel Samuel Testamarck, director of Pdvsa’s maritime branch PDV Marina; judge José Mascimino Márquez; and a lawyer, Cristóbal Cornieles Perret.
  • Reuters yesterday cited sources within Pdvsa as saying that over 20 lower ranking employees had also been arrested in recent days.
  • President Nicolás Maduro said yesterday that “in this first stage, important businessmen, very important managers, senior officials of state institutions and lawmakers have been captured,” and that “we’re going after them all”. With regard to Pdvsa, Maduro said that “draconian restructuring measures at the highest level” would “fully cleanse” the company of corruption.
  • The opposition party Primero Justicia (PJ) said in a statement that the corruption allegations offer “further proof that international pressure is not to blame for all the chaos that Venezuela suffers”. Instead, it said that “this new episode of corruption in Nicolás Maduro’s regime” typifies “the real reason why Venezuela is in ruins”. Former opposition leader Juan Guaidó said that El Aissami’s resignation was a “confession” of “how they’ve destroyed the country”.

Looking Ahead: No replacement for El Aissami has yet been announced. Both El Aissami and Ramírez are wanted in the US on drug trafficking and money laundering charges, respectively. According to the US State Department, El Aissami “oversaw or partially owned narcotics shipments of more than 1,000kg from Venezuela on multiple occasions”, while Ramírez “directs [the Maduro administration’s] attempts to circumvent US sanctions”.

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