The Venezuelan Minister of Petroleum and influential Chavismo leader, Tareck El Aissami, resigned from his post on Monday after an anti-corruption operation involving the state oil company and close collaborators.
The National Police against Corruption (PNCC), a body that acts under the greatest secrecy, announced last week a “deep investigation” of a plot to divert at least US$ 3,000 million from oil payments in crypto assets in 2022, according to press reports.
At least six officials are under arrest.
Three of them have links, according to the press, with El Aissami: the vice president of Commerce and Quality Supply of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), Colonel Antonio Pérez Suárez; Joselit Ramírez, Superintendent of Cryptoactives of Venezuela (SUNACRIP), which manages the funds of the oil industry through cryptocurrencies.
Also deputy Hugbel Roa, creator of the Petro, a state cryptocurrency backed by the country’s vast oil reserves and the first superintendent of Sunacrip.
“By virtue of the investigations that have been initiated into serious acts of corruption in PDVSA; I have made the decision to present my resignation as Minister of Petroleum, with the purpose of fully supporting, accompanying and backing this process”, El Aissami, who since 2020 held this key position in a single-producer country, wrote on Twitter.
He also announced his support for a new government “crusade” against corruption, which counts among its detainees Cristóbal Cornieles, president of the Caracas criminal circuit, an anti-terrorism judge and a mayor.
El Aissami, sanctioned by USA, is one of the most powerful leaders of the ruling Chavismo in Venezuela. He was previously Vice President of the country, as well as Minister of the Interior and Industry.
– 12% of income –
The official newspaper Últimas Noticias, reported that in oil sales operations through cryptocurrencies to circumvent the United States sanctions against Venezuelan crude, the US$ 3,000 million of last year were lost.
The money, the outlet points out, was diverted by Joselit Ramírez.
The firm Ecoanalítica estimated that the foreign currency income of the Venezuelan State in 2022 was US$ 25,000 million, indicated its director Adrúbal Oliveros. “For us to understand the magnitude of the embezzlement of US$ 3,000 million (…), what disappeared is equivalent to 12% of last year’s income.”
Venezuela’s oil industry has been the target of more than 25 corruption investigations since 2017, which ended with the arrests of dozens of PDVSA employees and two oil ministers, Eulogio del Pino and Nelson Martínez, who died in state custody.
Rafael Ramírez, one of the trusted men of the late former president Hugo Chávez, is accused of embezzling funds during his tenure as oil minister (2002-2014) and president of PDVSA (2004-2014). He is a fugitive in Italy and the Venezuelan authorities have unsuccessfully requested his extradition.
– “Fighting the loot” –
El Aissami’s resignation also receives a political reading, with dissidents and opponents pointing out fractures within the chavismo one year after the presidential elections in which Maduro aspires to a third term of six years.
The powerful leader Diosdado Cabello, vice president of the government United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), denied that theory. “What these things do is unite us more in Chávez,” he said at a press conference.
“The corrupt have no place in the revolution,” He went on to make no reference to El Aissami.
From the opposition, the departure of the oil czar is seen as “a confession of how they have destroyed the country,” he said. Juan Guaidowho was recognized by the United States as president of Venezuela until January.
“We must not forget that Nelson Martínez died in jail, that Eulogio del Pino is still in prison, all appointed by Maduro, who is primarily responsible for this network of corruption.”
“What we are seeing in the last few hours, far from being an act of justice, is a reckoning between the leadership that holds power”wrote Henrique Capriles, an opposition candidate for the 2024 presidential elections, like Guaidó.
“They are fighting over the loot and they don’t care about the suffering of the people.”
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