Mexico City, Mexico, March 21, 2023 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami tendered his resignation Monday after the National Anti-Corruption Police revealed alleged “serious acts of corruption" that led to the arrest of several high-ranking figures.
Among those arrested in the crackdown were Hugbel Roa, a lawmaker from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), and Joselit Ramírez, the head of the National Crypto Asset Superintendence (Sunacrip). Both are considered close associates of El Aissami.
A former student leader, El Aissami had served as interior minister and governor of Aragua state before being appointed to the Oil Ministry. He was tasked with “restructuring” the heavily sanctioned sector. Despite a significant recovery from historic lows, production has stagnated over the past year.
“In light of the investigations that have been initiated into serious acts of corruption in [Venezuelan state oil company] PDVSA; I have made the decision to present my resignation as Oil Minister, with the purpose of fully supporting, accompanying and backing this process,” wrote El Aissami.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who accepted the resignation, held a televised meeting with the leadership of the PSUV in the Hotel Humboldt in Caracas on Monday night where he spoke about the alleged corruption scheme that saw an estimated US$ 3 billion pilfered from public coffers according to media reports.
“We are going to fully cleanse PDVSA of these mechanisms, of these people who steal from the population, with draconian restructuring measures at the highest level, as we have already initiated," said Maduro.
Calling the anti-corruption drive an “ethical, spiritual, and moral battle”, the Venezuelan president said that those engaged in unscrupulous behavior were betraying the values of the Bolivarian Revolution, a sentiment was shared by high-ranking Chavista Diosdado Cabello, who accompanied Maduro during the broadcast.
Maduro charged that the alleged misappropriation of funds was particularly egregious given the challenges the government faces accessing currency given the US-led economic blockade of the country.
El Aissami himself had unveiled an alleged corruption plot led by former Oil Minister Rafael Ramírez last September.
News of the corruption crackdown first broke Friday after Communications Minister Freddy Ñáñez released a statement from the National Anti-Corruption Police seeking the arrest and indictment of several figures.
The statement read that their decision was based on “in-depth investigation, carried out for months, that points to citizens who exercised functions in the Judiciary, in the oil industry and in some municipalities in the country.”
The head of Sunacrip, Joselit Ramírez, was removed from his post by Maduro that same Friday. Ramírez is accused of siphoning funds via cryptocurrency mechanisms. Venezuela has turned to cryptocurrencies as a means of payment for oil shipments as a result of US sanctions that bar Venezuela from financial markets.
Other people implicated in the corruption scheme include: Pedro Hernández, mayor of the Santos Michelena municipality; Cristóbal Cornieles, president of the Criminal Judicial Circuit of Caracas; along with José Maximino Márquez García and Jorwis Bracho Gómez, who also served as judges; and Colonels Antonio Pérez and Samuel Testamarck, who held management posts at PDVSA.
On Monday there were additional reports of the arrests of former Sucre Governor Edwin Rojas and real estate developer Heriberto Perdomo. However, the possible connections between all the detained figures have yet to be fully established.
On Sunday Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab published a statement in response to the allegations leveled by the National Anti-Corruption Police and assigned five prosecutors to the case.
“The Public Ministry reiterates its commitment to fight against corruption and search for justice in order to protect the interests of the nation against unscrupulous practices and officials that damage the institutional framework and betray the trust of the country,” read the declaration signed by Saab.
The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) likewise released a communique backing the anti-corruption probe.
“The United Socialist Party of Venezuela expresses our firm backing and absolute support for the actions that the Venezuelan State has been carrying out to strengthen the fight against corruption, a scourge that seeks to corrode the morals, principles and values of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” read the statement.
Political analysts sympathetic to the government have previously criticized allegedly corrupt practices inside the Venezuela state. The anti-corruption crackdown comes as the government is engaged in what it describes as a “judicial revolution” to overhaul the country’s bureaucratic administration of justice as well as address prison overcrowding.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.