Venezuelan Attorney General Launches Corruption Investigation into Former Oil Czar

Chief Prosecutor Tarek William Saab informed the public Tuesday that his office had opened up an investigation into former Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez. 

By Rachael Boothroyd Rojas
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Former oil czar Rafael Ramirez will be investigated for corruption
Former oil czar Rafael Ramirez will be investigated for corruption in the country's oil sector. (Archive)

Bogota, December 12, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s attorney general, Tarek William Saab, has opened an investigation into former Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez in relation to a billion-dollar embezzlement scheme in state oil company PDVSA.

Speaking at a press conference Tuesday, Saab said that the probe had been launched after evidence was found in a raid on businessman Diego Salazar’s office, allegedly linking Ramirez to the scam. Salazar is Ramirez’s first cousin and was arrested on money-laundering and embezzlement charges at the beginning of December.

According to Saab, authorities had discovered a document “where Diego Salazar… names him [Ramirez] directly, directly incriminates him as his direct business partner in intermediary operations of the purchase and the sale of oil”.

“This leads the Attorney General’s office to open up an investigation case, to develop a line of judicial action that leads us to determining what responsibility this citizen might have in these cases,” he continued. 

Ramirez was one of the longest serving ministers under the government of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Frias, serving as oil minister between 2002-2014 and president of PDVSA from 2004 to 2014. He also acted as Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations until last week, when he was asked to resign by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. He is currently thought to be outside of the country, though his exact whereabouts are unknown. 

Since taking over from former Attorney General Luisa Ortega in August, Saab’s office has arrested 67 upper and mid-level managers in state oil company PDVSA and its subordinate companies, including its principal US subsidiary, CITGO. 

The arrests were all in relation to a string of corruption, graft and false-contracting rackets discovered to have taken place in PDVSA over the last ten years, which Saab says has cost the public purse billions of dollars. Nearly all of the crimes were carried out under Ramirez’ tenure as Venezuela’s chief oil policy-maker. Two former ministers and PDVSA presidents, Euologio Del Pino and Nelson Martinez, were also arrested two weeks ago. 

Both Salazar and Ramirez are accused of participating in the Andorra Bank scandal, in which up to EUR€4.2 billion in state oil dollars are thought to have been embezzled since 2006. Approximately forty PDVSA employees and businesspeople are alleged to have been involved in the scheme, with the stolen funds moved out of the country via the private Andorra Bank. Ramirez has denied the accusations of corruption against him, while Reuters reported that he said the government would be making one of its “worst political moves” if prosecutors pursued investigations against him. 

Panama Papers and CENCOEX 

In further comments to press, Saab also lambasted his predecessor Luisa Ortega for having closed several corruption cases in spite of evidence, revealing his office would now re-open a number of state corruption investigations in relation to the Panama Papers. 

Former state officials such as Venezuelan Army Chief Víctor Cruz Weffer, former Miraflores head of security Adrián Velásquez, ex-PDVSA Vice-President for Finance Eudomario Carruyo, and the former director of Venezuela’s Development Fund and the National Treasury, Claudia Patricia Diaz, will all be subject to a renewed investigation.

The attorney general also disclosed that his office was investigating at least 120 companies and shell companies in relation to importer fraud and the misuse of subsidized dollars obtained from Venezuelan state foreign commerce bureau CONCOEX. Twenty-one arrests have already been made since August. 

Meanwhile, an investigation into Zulia-based First Justice politician Juan Guanipa will also be re-opened, Saab announced. Guanipa is accused of fomenting violent protests and utilizing hate-speech between April and July this year, when at least 120 people were killed as a result of deadly anti-government unrest in the country. 

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