Venezuela’s Maduro replaces oil minister as police arrest official in cleanup of corruption


CARACAS — Venezuelan regime leader Nicolás Maduro accepted the resignation of the country’s powerful oil minister on Monday after several senior officials were detained amid a corruption probe focused on the state company PDVSA and the judiciary.

Tarek El Aisami had said on Twitter on Monday that he was stepping down to fully support the investigation.

In Venezuela, where rights groups such as Transparency International have described opacity, arrests of high-ranking government officials for corruption are rare.

Maduro did not immediately appoint a successor to El Aissami, who has served as vice president, minister and mayor for the past two decades.

Minister of Petroleum of Venezuela
Venezuelan Oil Minister Tarek El Aissami speaks at a bilateral conference between Venezuela and Turkey held at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, January 24, 2023. (Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/Reuters)

Maduro, who has spearheaded the fight against corruption so far, said in televised remarks that his administration was committed to “getting to the root” of the corruption, calling an investigation launched last year “professional.” “realistic, scientific and disciplined”.

Maduro, who appeared alongside cabinet and ruling party heavyweights, said he planned to reorganize PDVSA, but gave no details.

El Aissami, who has held the position since 2020, faces US sanctions for alleged involvement in drug trafficking, an allegation he denies.

Neither PDVSA nor the Public Prosecutor’s Office responded to requests for comment.

PDVSA suffered heavy losses last year as tankers left Venezuela without proper payment for their cargo. New PDVSA boss Pedro Telecha ordered an audit shortly after taking over the role in January, suspending oil supply contracts.

State television said on Monday that Pedro Hernández, the mayor of Las Tejerias, which was hit by the floods that killed dozens of people late last year, and Joselito Ramírez, the former head of Venezuela’s cryptocurrency watchdog, were also arrested. rice field.

Since 2018, Ramirez has headed the agency that issues Venezuela’s official digital coin, the Petro, but has been sacked from that role, the Gazette said on Saturday. Pro-government newspaper Ultimas Noticias reported that he was under investigation in a case linked to his PDVSA.

Judges Cristobal Cornilez and José Marquez García were also detained, state television reported, without elaborating.

The arrest is the largest recent crackdown on PDVSA corruption allegations.

Several executives and two former presidents of the company were arrested in 2017, and authorities detained a number of executives for administrative misconduct in 2018.