Caracas, September 1, 2022 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab has announced a new corruption probe against former oil minister Rafael Ramírez after unveiling another alleged multi-billion dollar scheme in state oil company PDVSA.
“We have received evidence from Oil Minister and PDVSA President Tareck El Aissami regarding an alleged embezzlement scheme carried out by Rafael Ramírez through a [false] loan agreement underwritten in 2012 that would have caused losses of almost US $5 billion,” said Saab on Thursday on national television.
On Tuesday, El Aissami delivered several documents to the Attorney General’s Office reportedly proving the deviation of $4.850 billion from PDVSA to two foreign funds between 2012-2013, at the end of Ramírez’s tenure in the oil industry.
During a press conference, the current oil minister detailed that in February 2012, Ramírez and other high-level PDVSA officials greenlighted a financing deal for 17,490 million bolívars with private company Atlantic Administrator 17107 to be paid back in a 24-month period. However, PDVSA never received the loan and a document was forged to simulate the transaction.
Meanwhile, Atlantic owner and Venezuelan lawyer Juan Andrés Wallis Brandt assigned the Violet Advisors and Welka Holding Limited funds, based in Panama and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, respectively, as debt creditors.
The two foreign funds were owned by Venezuelan brothers and businessmen Luis Oberto Anselmi and Ignacio Oberto Anselmi, who received 28 installments from PDVSA between March 20, 2012, and March 26, 2013. The bank transfers totaled $4.850 billion as payment for the false loan.
El Aissami added that an unspecified amount of the siphoned-off money was also transferred to “Leopoldo Alejandro Betancourt López, related to justice fugitive Leopoldo López,” a Venezuelan far-right politician who was sentenced to 13 years in prison for his role in the 2014 violent opposition street protests which left 43 people dead. He escaped house arrest and fled to Spain in 2019.
The Venezuelan Oil Minister called the newly exposed fraud “the most serious corruption scheme committed against our state oil company.” He likewise accused his predecessor of being “directly responsible for [Venezuela’s] oil industry crisis,” later aggravated by US sanctions.
“We have requested the Attorney General to issue an international arrest warrant against Rafael Ramírez, the intellectual and material author of this unprecedented mega robbery in the Venezuelan oil industry,” stressed El Aissami.
For his part, Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab confirmed that a probe has been opened with the first arrest warrants issued against former oil minister Ramírez —who lives in Italy —, the Anselmi brothers, Atlantic’s owner Juan Andrés Wallis Brandt as well as four PDVSA officials allegedly involved in the corruption plot. He did not rule out further arrest orders.
So far, only PDVSA’s former Vice President of Finance Víctor Aular has been arrested and questioned. According to Saab, the detainee confessed to signing the false loan contract with Atlantic and helping to cover up several corruption plots. Aular is being charged with public funds misappropriation, embezzlement and money laundering.
In Ramírez’s case, Saab stated that the former PDVSA chief is currently being investigated for nine corruption schemes and has been charged with public funds misappropriation, embezzlement, money laundering and criminal association.
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 59-year-old engineer served as oil minister from 2002 to 2014 and as PDVSA president between 2004 and 2014. He went on to become economy vice president before being named ambassador to the United Nations until his resignation in December 2017, only weeks before corruption accusations surfaced.
Since then, an ongoing anti-corruption probe has linked Ramírez with a number of criminal activities during his 12-year term at the head of the oil industry. Between 2009 and 2015, he allegedly facilitated an embezzlement scheme in PDVSA’s Austria-based bureau, which cost the country an estimated $4.8 billion.
Additionally, Ramírez has been pointed out for siphoning off €4.2 billion worth of state oil funds and moving it out of the country through a bank in Andorra. Authorities have likewise accused the former minister of paying $1.3 billion to Petrosaudi Oil Services for drilling and extraction operations at the offshore Mariscal Sucre field despite the venture being inactive over 60 percent of the time for seven years.
In reaction to the new corruption scandal, Ramírez told Reuters that the accusations were “completely fake.” On Twitter, he claimed that all financial transactions during his time in PDVSA were audited and appeared in the company’s annual reports.
“The Venezuelan government has begun another round of attacks since I showed my willingness to participate in a presidential election,” wrote Ramírez. In a recent interview with a Colombian outlet, he talked about the prospect of becoming a presidential candidate for the upcoming 2024 vote. Since 2017, the former high-level official has been a staunch critic of the Maduro administration and has threatened to reveal governmental corruption.
Venezuela’s attorney general issued an Interpol Red Alert against Ramírez in January 2018 while the Venezuelan Supreme Court (TSJ) formally demanded his extradition from Italy in July 2020. The request was denied last year.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Mérida.