Treason in the Palace: Venezuela’s Maduro Claims Former Minister Conspired with Opposition and US Gov’t

Maduro claimed that El Aissami and his associates had knowledge of the failed 2018 assassination attempt against him.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro speaks about former Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami’s suspected ties to the country’s far-right during his television program. (Prensa Presidencial)

Mexico City, Mexico, April 30, 2024 ( – Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accused his former oil minister, Tareck El Aissami, of conspiring with far-right political actors and of having knowledge of assassination plots and coup schemes.

Maduro unveiled the surprising details of the ongoing investigation into El Aissami, detained earlier this month alongside several associates over an alleged corruption scheme in the oil industry, during his weekly television program. 

“I can guarantee that this investigation has yielded compelling evidence that a highly corrupt mafia took advantage of their position to not only steal and embezzle from the country but also to conspire with the far right and the US government,” said the Venezuelan president on Monday night.

During a press conference earlier in the day revealing details of the investigation, Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab released audio of conversations featuring opposition leaders Leopoldo López and Carlos Vecchio and Samark López, seen as key the operator for El Aissami and among those detained alongside the former minister. 

Far-right opposition leader Leopoldo López, currently in exile in Spain, confirmed that he spoke with key figures inside the Maduro administration and alleged that there were likewise recorded conversations with Saab in efforts to overthrow the government.

Maduro’s communications chief Freddy Ñáñez shared audio of an alleged phone conversation from 2020 between opposition figure Julio Borges and Samark López. In the leaked audio, Borges tells López about his conversations with James “Jimmy” Story, the former US Ambassador to Venezuela based in Bogotá, detailing the diplomat’s involvement in regime change plans.

According to Borges, Story was demanding “results” from Samark López in terms of disruptive actions in Venezuela. In exchange, López appeared to leverage the influence of El Aissami, who has held key cabinet posts in recent years, most recently as oil minister and president of state oil company PDVSA.

In another shocking revelation, Maduro claimed that El Aissami and his associates had been collaborating with the country’s extremist opposition for years and had knowledge of the failed 2018 assassination attempt that saw two explosive-laden drones explode close to the presidential stage during a public speech. 

Maduro further claimed that they were aware of plans for the April 30, 2019 coup attempt led by Leopoldo López and his protégé Juan Guaidó, as well as details of the foiled invasion scheme known as Operation Gideon that featured US mercenaries in a plot to seize the Venezuelan president. 

During the broadcast, Maduro himself expressed dismay over the fact that close associates had allegedly taken part in “treasonous” conspiracies.

The latest revelations follow the arrest of El Aissami, Samark López and Simón Alejandro Zerpa, former Minister of Economy, earlier this month. The three were charged with misappropriation of public funds, influence trafficking and money laundering, with El Aissami additionally accused of treason.

“What has been uncovered in the PDVSA-Crypto scheme, is that alongside corruption, there was also treason and conspiracy. These people didn’t think about the homeland or anyone else; they were trusted by me, but justice came through, and they were captured,” wrote Maduro on social media, vowing that investigations would continue.

The alleged corruption plot has been labeled PDVSA/Crypto by prosecutors, in reference to the accusation that at least US $3 billion worth of crude sales were diverted via cryptocurrency schemes orchestrated through the National Crypto Asset Superintendence (Sunacrip). 

Following the imposition of US sanctions on the country’s oil industry, Venezuela was forced to resort to smaller and unreliable intermediaries to place its crude in Asian markets by selling at big discounts. The unorthodox system has led to numerous payment delays as well as corruption schemes inside PDVSA. 

El Aissami’s resigned when the probe was launched in March 2023. Maduro tapped Pedro Tellechea to serve as both oil minister and PDVSA president. After taking over, Tellechea suspended most oil and fuel exports in order to renegotiate contracts and impose more favorable conditions. 

Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.