Caracas, April 30, 2023 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has welcomed the approval of a “Domain Extinction” law by the country’s National Assembly (AN) as part of ongoing efforts to fight corruption.
Maduro argued that the 48-article bill was “very thorough” and would “strike a blow against corrupt mafias” operating inside the state apparatus.
“Those who think they can play a double game, play simultaneously for the crooks and for the revolutionaries, are seriously mistaken,” the president warned during a televised broadcast on Friday.
Maduro went on to call for “maximum transparency and maximum dedication” from public officials at all levels to root out the embezzlement of public funds.
Venezuela has recently seen headlines hogged by a massive anti-corruption operation following allegations that the state oil company PDVSA had been defrauded of US $3 billion as part of a scheme involving the country’s cryptocurrency watchdog SUNACRIP.
Under severe US sanctions, the Caribbean nation’s oil industry has been plagued by unreliable intermediaries that have seen the new leadership overhaul contracts and demand upfront payments. Reuters and the Associated Press have claimed that state oil company PDVSA may have racked up more than $20 billion in unpaid bills, but Venezuelanalysis sources have cast doubt on the figures.
Apart from crude transactions, PDVSA is likewise reviewing petcoke exports and domestic fuel supply, according to reports.
The corruption investigations have extended to other areas, including the heavy industries and the Caracas judicial circuit.
To date, there have been 61 detentions of public officials, businessmen and judges, with at least 20 more arrest warrants issued by the Attorney General’s Office. The charges have included misappropriation of public funds, influence peddling and money laundering.
Some of the higher profile detainees include former AN Deputy Hugbel Roa, former SUNACRIP head Joselit Ramírez and Venezuelan Guyana Corporation President Pedro Maldonado. The three are believed to be close associates of Tareck El Aissami, who resigned as oil minister and offered his support for the investigations.
The revelations also saw the country’s National Assembly rush to approve the “Domain Extinction” law, which looks to fast-track the seizure of assets acquired from illicit dealings. The legislation was approved in its second discussion on Thursday and later received the green light from the country’s Supreme Court.
The approved bill, seen by Venezuelanalysis, states that the legal instrument looks to “strengthen the capacity to combat criminal activities” by creating a “juridical formula” that allows the state to take ownership of assets deemed related to corruption, drug trafficking, money laundering, terrorism and organized crime.
It is up to the Attorney General’s Office to make a request which is then subject to a court ruling within a two-week window. The asset seizure can take place before the conclusion of the corresponding criminal case against the suspect.
The law goes on to determine the handling of confiscated property, which can be used to finance social programs and public services or to pay reparations to victims. The original text presented in early April was subjected to discussion and review by legal experts.
In his Friday broadcast, Maduro reported that authorities have seized over one thousand assets in the ongoing operation, among them luxury apartments, mansions, urban and rural plots as well as business offices and retail storehouses. The list likewise included cars, trucks and private airplanes.
He added that the patrimony would be used to “tend to the needs of the people” but offered no further details.
The ongoing judicial initiative was mired in controversy last week when suspect Leoner Azuaje died in the custody of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) in Caracas.
Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab ordered an investigation and stated that the preliminary findings backed the working theory that Azuaje committed suicide in his cell.