Venezuela Requests Extradition of Former Oil Minister

Rafael Ramirez has been accused of corrupt dealings during his tenure as oil minister.

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Ramirez served as oil czar until 2014. (Reuters/Jorge Silva)
Ramirez served as oil czar until 2014. (Reuters/Jorge Silva)
By Ricardo Vaz
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Mérida, August 1, 2020 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan Supreme Court (TSJ) has formally requested the extradition of former Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez.

Ramirez ran one of the country’s most important ministries between 2002 and 2014, while he also served as president of state oil company PDVSA from 2004 to 2014. He is said to currently reside in Italy, although his exact whereabouts are unknown.

According to the TSJ sentence, the 56-year-old engineer is wanted on charges of graft, forging an auction process, and criminal association. The extradition request stated that Ramirez will be tried “with all the proper assurances.”

In 2017, Attorney General Tarek William Saab launched an investigation against the former minister as part of an anti-corruption campaign targeting the oil industry. The accusations pertain to the 2010 contracting of Petrosaudi Oil Services company to perform natural gas drilling and extraction at the offshore Mariscal Sucre fields.

The attorney general’s investigation claims that PDVSA paid over US $1.3 billion to Petrosaudi over seven years, with a $460 thousand daily fee just for access to the offshore drilling rig, which was reportedly inactive for the majority of the time.

Ramirez had been previously accused of running an embezzlement scheme out of PDVSA’s Austria-based oil marketing bureau, which allegedly cost Venezuelan coffers US $4.8 billion. Ramirez and his cousin, businessman Diego Salazar, were likewise accused of siphoning off €4.2 billion worth of Venezuelan state oil funds through a bank in Andorra. Salazar was arrested in December 2017. The Venezuelan Attorney General’s Office issued an Interpol red alert against the former minister in early 2018.

Once seen as one of the most influential figures in the Chavista camp, Ramirez left the oil sector and stepped down as the government’s vice president for economy in 2014. He went on to serve as Venezuela’s UN ambassador but renounced the post in December 2017 before corruption accusations surfaced.

Ramirez, who has since become a fierce government critic, has yet to comment on the TSJ request. Italian authorities have not taken a public position on the case.