Caracas, January 30, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Former Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez has threatened to reveal “confidential information” about alleged Venezuelan government corruption if efforts persist to prosecute him as part of a high-level graft probe into the country’s oil industry.
“I have a lot of information about the state, confidential information that is very valuable, and I must be very responsible in the things I say and how I say them,” he said in an exclusive interview with independent right-leaning Venezuelan weekly La Razon.
Last week, Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab placed an International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) red alert for Ramirez’s capture on charges of embezzlement, money laundering, and association.
In addition to serving as oil minister from 2002 to 2014, Ramirez headed state oil company PDVSA between 2004 and 2014, before going on to serve as vice-president for the economy and subsequently ambassador to the United Nations, a post he held until December last year.
Following his resignation from his post at the UN, Ramirez was recalled back to Caracas for formal questioning by authorities, an order he has publicly flouted. His current location remains unknown.
In late December, Saab claimed that an embezzlement scandal at PDVSA’s Austria-based bureau for market research had cost the nation US$4.8 billion. The top prosecutor said the bureau, which was created in 2006 under Ramirez’s tenure, was guilty of selling confidential information about Venezuelan oil production to international buyers and contractors.
Earlier in December, Saab ordered the arrest of Ramirez’s first cousin, Diego Salazar, accusing both men of participating in a US$4.2 billion embezzlement scheme involving the Andorra Private Bank.
Ramirez has, however, rejected the charges against him as false and politically motivated, in turn accusing Saab and the Venezuelan government of corruption.
In particular, he claimed that the attorney general’s investigation was motivated by a personal “feud”, alleging that Saab had illicit links to a PDVSA subcontractor known as Conkor Construction during his tenure as governor of Anzoategui state. The ex-oil minister did not cite any evidence to bolster the accusation.
In the interview, Ramirez warned he would go public with alleged information on government corruption if the prosecution continued its efforts against him.
“If they keep trampling me, transgressing and violating my rights, I have every right to defend myself and invite a frank discussion, for example about corruption and the public purse… I know of people and companies that received resources for supposed political activities that weren’t necessary,” he claimed.
Ramirez went on to accuse Maduro of having “betrayed the legacy of Commander Chavez” and called for primaries within the United Socialist Party to choose a presidential candidate. The former oil minister has previously hinted he may throw his hat into the upcoming presidential race.
The interview with La Razon was republished by left-wing Venezuelan website Aporrea. However, other leftist outlets as well as popular movements conforming the grassroots of Chavismo have largely ignored the case of Ramirez and have for the most part supported the anti-corruption drive.
Ramirez is the highest-ranking Venezuelan official to break with the Maduro administration since former Attorney General Luisa Ortega.
Ortega publicly broke with the government early last year amid deadly opposition protests demanding the ouster of President Maduro, which ultimately resulted in over a hundred deaths.
While accusing the government of human rights abuses and constitutional violations, the ex attorney general’s critics denounced her for allegedly turning a blind eye to right-wing political violence.
Ortega was formally removed by the incoming National Constituent Assembly in August. Her successor, Tarek William Saab, has since launched a sweeping anti-corruption drive that began with an investigation into an alleged multi-million dollar extortion ring run by Ortega and her husband out of the Attorney General’s office.
Since September, 70 people have been arrested in the ongoing graft probe into the oil industry, including 18 top-level managers, among them the oil minister, PDVSA president, and 6 executives from PDVSA's US subsidiary, CITGO. Other investigations into Venezuela’s foreign commerce bureau as well as the Panama Papers have likewise yielded several dozen arrests, with inquiries ongoing.