Italian Prosecutor Favors Extradition of Former Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramírez

Italy has yet to approve the ex-PDVSA president’s extradition to Caracas to face corruption charges.

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Venezuela’s Attorney General Office demanded Ramírez's extradition in 2020 after issuing an Interpol Red Alert in 2018. (Reuters)
Venezuela’s Attorney General Office demanded Ramírez's extradition in 2020 after issuing an Interpol Red Alert in 2018. (Reuters)
By Andreína Chávez Alava
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Guayaquil, Ecuador, July 15, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Attorney General of Rome’s Appeals Court, Roberto Cavallone, recommended the extradition of former Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramírez, currently under corruption accusations.

In a document publicly disclosed on Wednesday by Venezuelan Communications Minister Freddy Ñáñez, the Italian jurist asked the court to accept Venezuela’s 2020 extradition request after confirming that Ramírez’ alleged crimes’ would have caused damages to the South American country.

“There are no elements to indicate that the pending judicial process [against Ramírez] amounts to persecution for political reasons [or that] the procedure will not respect the accused's fundamental rights,” the two-pages letter sent by Cavallone to the court reads.

The court's prosecutor likewise stated that Ramírez' alleged crimes of embezzlement, bidding irregularities and criminal association are similarly sanctioned in the Italian legal system, particularly "in articles 314, 353 and 416 of the Penal Code.” In addition, Cavallone recalled that the two nations share an active extradition treaty approved in 1931.

However, the Italian authority required that the Venezuelan government provide information on “the timings and methods” of the former minister's judicial process and preventive detention before allowing the extradition.

Rome’s Appeals Court has yet to rule on Ramírez's extradition to face charges in Venezuela. The former minister's lawyer Roberto de Vita said on Thursday that no hearing had been scheduled and claimed that his client's life would be in danger should the extradition move forward.

After the issuance of an Interpol Red Alert in January 2018, the Venezuelan Supreme Court (TSJ) formally requested the former minister extradition from Italy in July 2020, citing charges of graft, forging an auction process, and criminal association. The sentence vowed that Ramírez would be tried “with all the adequate guarantees.”

The investigations against the former minister, who also headed state oil company PDVSA, began in 2017 as part of a high-level probe into a multi-billion dollar corruption and false-contracting plot, the majority committed during Ramírez’s tenure at the head of the industry.

Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab accused Ramírez, his cousin Diego Salazar and businessman Jorge Enrique Luongo of having siphoned off €4.2 billion worth of state oil funds and moving it out of the country through a bank in Andorra. Salazar and Luongo were arrested in December 2017 on money laundering and embezzlement charges.

Likewise, the anti-corruption probe linked Ramírez to an embezzlement scheme in PDVSA’s Austria-based bureau for market research, created in 2006. The bureau allegedly manipulated prices and sold confidential information about the country's oil production to international buyers ​and contractors. The scheme reportedly cost the country an estimated US $4.8 billion between 2009 and 2015.

Additionally, the attorney general revealed that in 2010, PDVSA contracted Petrosaudi Oil Services to perform natural gas drilling and extraction at the offshore Mariscal Sucre fields, paying $1.3 billion for seven years. However, the operation was inactive over 60 percent of the time.

Once part of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) leadership, Ramírez held several high-ranking posts during the Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro governments.

The 57-year-old engineer served as oil minister from 2002 to 2014 and as PDVSA president between 2004 and 2014. He went on to become vice president for the economy before being named ambassador to the United Nations until his resignation in December 2017, weeks before the corruption accusations emerged.

The former PDVSA chief has claimed the charges against him are false and politically motivated for his “critical stand” towards the Maduro government and has publicly refused to return to Caracas for formal questioning. Following the Interpol warrant, Ramírez threatened to reveal “confidential information” about alleged corruption involving high-level officials, including Saab himself.

After leaving the country and settling in Italy, the ex-oil czar stepped up his criticism against the Venezuelan government, writing articles and giving interviews to a number of anti-government local and corporate outlets.

Two former ministers and PDVSA presidents, Eulogio Del Pino and Nelson Martínez (who died in custody in 2018), were arrested on corruption charges in 2017. The investigations also led to a number of upper and mid-level PDVSA employees being charged and detained.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.