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Venezuela arrests ex-oil minister El Aissami in graft probe

This handout pictured released by the Venezuelan Public Prosecutor's Office on April 9, 2024, shows former Venezuelan oil minister Tareck El Aissami (R) being detained by members of the National Anti-Corruption Police
This handout pictured released by the Venezuelan Public Prosecutor's Office on April 9, 2024, shows former Venezuelan oil minister Tareck El Aissami (R) being detained by members of the National Anti-Corruption Police - Copyright Venezuelan Public Prosecutor's Office/AFP Handout
This handout pictured released by the Venezuelan Public Prosecutor's Office on April 9, 2024, shows former Venezuelan oil minister Tareck El Aissami (R) being detained by members of the National Anti-Corruption Police - Copyright Venezuelan Public Prosecutor's Office/AFP Handout

Venezuelan authorities announced the arrest Tuesday of influential ex-oil minister Tareck El Aissami, who had resigned from his post last year amid a corruption scandal at state oil company PDVSA.

“We have managed to reveal the direct participation and consequent arrest” of El Aissami, Attorney General Tarek William Saab said, adding that charges would be announced “in the next few hours.”

The arrest of El Aissami comes after critics of the graft probe have labeled it a “political purge” by President Nicolas Maduro.

El Aissami, 49, also previously headed PDVSA. He was a close lieutenant to Maduro, serving as his vice president from 2017 to 2018. 

He resigned in March 2023 amid a corruption scandal over irregularities in the management of funds from oil operations carried out with crypto assets. 

The case also led to the detention of dozens of officials, including top management of the Sunacrip crypto regulator. 

Venezuela, home to vast oil reserves, launched a petroleum-backed crypto currency in 2018 to sidestep US sanctions. However, citizens struggled to understand how to use it and it was labeled a “scam” by some risk rating bodies. 

The use of crypto in the oil sector also provided alleged opportunities to divert funds.

– Ongoing corrruption probe –

The scandal surrounding PDVSA was the death knell of the cryptocurrency, whose shutdown was announced in January.

It also led to a crackdown on bitcoin mining operations in the country where cryptocurrencies have been a hugely popular guard against hyperinflation and the deflation of the bolivar.

Saab displayed photos of El Aissami under arrest, handcuffed while under the escort of two officials.

He also announced the capture of Simon Zerpa, an ex-economy minister, and Samar Lopez, a businessman accused of money laundering.

The new arrests add to some 61 people taken into custody amid the investigation into PDVSA US-based subsidiary Citgo.

Several experts have previously accused Maduro of using the investigation as an excuse to clean house of political enemies — a charge rejected by authorities.

At least two detainees picked up in the corruption probe have died, one from a terminal liver disease and another by suicide.

Rights groups have demanded an independent investigation into the suicide.

Maduro is currently seeking a third six-year presidential term, as critics worry he has increasingly grown authoritarian.

Venezuela sits on the world’s largest proven oil reserves but while it once produced more than three million barrels a day, that has dropped to less than one million following years of mismanagement and crushing US sanctions.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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