Caracas, September 16th 2015 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuelan authorities have intercepted three state oil company (PDVSA) chartered tankers loaded with illegal cargos of fuel and allegedly en route to the Caribbean.
Speaking to press agencies, Andrés Gómez Rojas, Admiral and Commander of Zodimainoc (Operative Zone for Integral Maritime Defence and Western Peninsular) confirmed that his forces had made the discovery after raiding three tankers on the Peninsular of Paraguana last week.
One of the ships, “La Negra Hipolita,” was reportedly carrying a cargo of at least 60,000 barrels of diesel, despite only being authorised to transport 10,000 barrels.
Seven employees at PDVSA have been arrested in relation to the incident, including La Negra Hipolita’s Captain and First Mate. All are accused of smuggling extracted goods and association to commit crime by Venezuela’s Public Prosecution. Authorities believe that the crew intended to resell the fuel at a significant profit abroad.
“They were taking it to the Caribbean, we put handcuffs on them and now they’re prisoners,” stated Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in relation to the recent PDVSA arrests. Maduro has publicly vowed to “go after” state and public officials who collaborate in the fuel smuggling racket.
Nonetheless, the PDVSA employees’ legal defence has attributed the six-times overloaded tanker to an “administrative error” and a failure in communications.
Over the past month the government has ramped up its efforts to halt the illegal contraband of tonnes of highly subsidised fuel out of the country, even taking the controversial measure of closing the Venezuelan-Colombia border in the smuggling hotspot of Cucuta four weeks ago.
At least 50 members of the National Guard have since been arrested by authorities for their participation in border smuggling.
Top Health Director Arrested
The PDVSA arrests were followed by the controversial detention of the Director of Health Economy for the Ministry of Health, José Gregorio Velásquez Lozada, who is also accused of smuggling vital medicines.
Some 531,000 medical items are alleged to have left Lozada’s department without being accounted for. They were later located at a warehouse in Aragua state by the Bolivarian National Guard following a tip-off.
Lozada, whose accounts have also been temporarily frozen, is reported to have authorised the deviation of the items from their original destination.
Three other arrests have been made in relation to the discovery of the cache, including that of an airforce lieutenant who is reported to have been involved in transporting the contraband items.
Last year, the former Minister of Health, Eugene Sader, was arrested on three charges relating to corruption and the misuse of funds. The ex-minister continues to protest her innocence.