Venezuela’s Attorney General: Corruption in Oil Marketing Bureau Cost Nation $4.8bn

Tarek William Saab said the little-known Austria-based bureau had been created in 2006 during the tenure of former Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez, who is currently under investigation. 

By Rachael Boothroyd Rojas
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Corruption at PDVSA is calculated to have cost the nation billions of dollars
Corruption at PDVSA over the last ten years is calculated to have cost the nation billions of dollars. (archives)

Bogota, January 3, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab has revealed that corruption at an international marketing bureau for state oil company PDVSA resulted in USD$4.8 billion losses from the public purse.

Speaking last Friday, Saab said that billions had been embezzled from PDVSA’s Austria-based bureau for marketing intelligence and petroleum policy, which was created in 2006 under the tenure of former Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez. 

Ramirez has been under investigation by Venezuelan authorities since December in connection to a string of multi-billion dollar corruption and false-contracting scams in PDVSA that were uncovered last year. Ramirez headed the state oil company between 2004 and 2014 as well as the country’s oil ministry for 12 years between 2002-2014. He also served as Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations under the Nicolas Maduro government from 2014 until December 2017.

Since being removed from his post last month, Ramirez has been in hiding and his exact whereabouts remain unknown. Nonetheless, he has written several opinion pieces for Venezuelan news sites professing his innocence and defending his record as oil czar. 

In a piece published in late December entitled “The Trap”, Ramirez accuses the government of betraying the revolution and running the economy into the ground. He also alleges that the governing elite plotted to oust him and his team from PDVSA following the death of Chavez, and that the state oil company had since been divided up amongst Maduro’s inner circle. Nonetheless, he said that his testimony was not designed to empower the “violent” and “intolerant” right-wing against the revolution.

“I have nothing to do with the stateless right-wing,” he wrote in the article. 

In early December, Ramirez’s cousin, businessman Diego Salazar, was arrested on money laundering charges in relation to the embezzlement of PDVSA funds. According to Saab, authorities had conducted a raid on Salazar’s office where they had found evidence linking Ramirez to his cousin’s alleged criminal activity. 

Both Salazar and Ramirez are accused of participating in the Andorra Bank scandal, in which up to EUR€4.2 billion in Venezuelan state oil funds are believed to have been siphoned off and moved out of the country via the private Andorra Bank.

Since taking over the Attorney General's office from Luisa Ortega in August, Saab has arrested almost 70 upper and mid-level managers in PDVSA and its subordinate companies, including its principal US subsidiary, CITGO. 

Two former oil ministers and PDVSA presidents, Euologio Del Pino and Nelson Martinez, were also arrested in November.