An operation led by the Anti-Corruption Police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office hit the Venezuelan political scene hard. The authorities are investigating alleged cases of corruption on the part of judges, mayors, governors and, above all, leaders of PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-owned oil company.
After several arrests made since last Friday (17), the Minister of Petroleum, Tareck El Aissami, resigned from his position and President Nicolás Maduro promised to restructure the company “at the highest levels of command”.
The facts opened a crisis in the sector, which had been struggling to recover economically after years of low productivity and sanctions imposed by the US. On Tuesday night (21), Maduro announced that the newly appointed director of PDVSA, Pedro Tellechea, will also be the country’s new oil minister.
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Despite the repercussions, however, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Police have not yet presented, as of this Wednesday (22), a balance of the operation involving the number of detainees, the identity of the suspects and the alleged crimes for which they are being investigated.
Who was arrested?
On Sunday (19), the Police released the first – and only, so far – list of detainees, with four names: Cristóbal Cornieles Perret and José Mascimino Marquez, judges in Caracas; Pedro Hernández, mayor of the municipality of Las Tejerías; and Joselit Ramírez, director of the Venezuelan Cryptocurrency Superintendence (Sunacrip).
Despite the fact that the Attorney General of the Republic, Tareck William Saab, stated in an interview with Radio Onda last Monday that other arrests would be made in the next few days, the MP and the Police did not disclose information about new arrests.
Already this Tuesday (21), the President of the Legislative, Jorge Rodríguez, said that 19 people had already been arrested, but did not offer details.
In addition to the four detainees officially announced by the Anti-Corruption Police, another six names of people who would have been arrested were released by the Venezuelan press and at least one was confirmed by Parliament itself: deputy Hugbel Roa, from the ruling PSUV party.
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Roa’s arrest had already been announced by local newspapers on Sunday night, but in a session held this Tuesday, the National Assembly confirmed that the deputy was being held on suspicion of corruption and approved the withdrawal of his parliamentary immunity.
Citing a “source linked to the investigations”, the AFP agency points out that Roa had links with the former governor of Sucre, Edwin Rojas, who would also have been arrested. Both would be partners of businessman Alejandro Arroyo, former president of the soccer club Mineros de Guayana.
The local press mentions some names of PDVSA employees who were also allegedly arrested, although these arrests have not been confirmed by the authorities. According to the daily Tal Cual, Antonio Pérez Suárez, vice president of Commerce and Quality Supply, Samuel Testamarck, general manager of the PDV Marina subsidiary, and José Agustín Ramos Chirinos, manager of Loss Prevention and Control, are under arrest.
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This Monday, the operation also reached the private sector. According to the Venezuelan portal The boardbusinessman Rafael Rodríguez Perdomo, one of the owners of construction company HP, is among those arrested by the Anti-Corruption Police.
In a statement, the company, which is responsible for several developments in the upper-middle-class neighborhood of Caracas called Las Mercedes, denied involvement in any case of “corruption or influence peddling, illegal use of capital or financing of political organizations and political leaders.” .
What are the charges?
According to announcement issued by the Anti-Corruption Police last Friday, the date of the start of the operation and the first arrests, the suspects may be involved in “serious acts of administrative corruption and embezzlement of funds”.
In addition, the document states that the investigated cases would have occurred “in the Judiciary, in the oil industry and in some city halls in the country”, without making it clear whether they are all part of the alleged scheme.
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On Monday night, President Nicolás Maduro called a party meeting and gave statements about the operation. In addition to promising to “clean up” PDVSA, the president mentioned some cases, such as that of Pedro Hernández, mayor of Las Tejerías, and accused him of having ties to criminal groups.
“In investigations, his direct link with the murderer’s criminal group known as ‘el Conejo’, his links, his businesses, is an incredible thing,” he said. Carlos Enrique Gómez Rodríguez, nicknamed “el Conejo”, is wanted by the police, accused of murder and conspiracy.
What happened at PDVSA?
Maduro’s speeches point out that the investigations that take place in city halls and courts do not necessarily concern the alleged corruption scheme at PDVSA.
Some newspapers and even Venezuelan deputies speak of embezzlement from the state company’s coffers, which would reach US$ 3 billion.
According to a source from the Venezuelan judiciary interviewed by the Brazil in fact, it is possible that there are also cases of money laundering. “Now, for us to know what the crimes are, we have to wait for the MP to present the formal accusations”, he said.
In an article published on Tuesday, the Reuters agency claims that PDVSA would have an embezzlement of more than US$ 21 billion dollars in accounts receivable from negotiations made with intermediaries to “circumvent” sanctions imposed by the USA.
Still according to the British agency, the figure would explain the decision taken in January by the director of the company, Pedro Tellechea, to suspend shipments of shipments that were not paid upon shipment.
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According to a source from the Venezuelan oil industry interviewed by Brazil in factthe whole situation of suffocation created by the blockade, which forced the company to build alternative routes for financial and merchandise flows, makes it difficult to investigate possible cases of embezzlement and money laundering.
In addition, the source claims that the limitations on negotiations imposed by US sanctions against PDVSA could explain that private businessmen were also involved in the alleged cases of corruption at the state-owned company.
This is because, as it is blocked, PDVSA is obliged to “hire contracting companies that represent it in international negotiations”. “These contractors cannot move this money freely because it is sanctioned for being from PDVSA”. So, many times, these companies end up “investing these resources in other sectors of the Venezuelan economy” such as, for example, the construction industry, he explains.
Editing: Patricia de Matos
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