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Former Venezuelan oil czar arrested in corruption probe

  • Tareck El Aissami, the once-powerful minister in charge of Venezuela’s rich oil reserves, has been arrested.
  • El Aissami, who resigned last year, is set to appear in court for the first time on Tuesday on charges including money laundering, criminal association and treason.
  • El Aissami’s resignation came just days before the arrests of several other senior officials in the socialist government of President Nicolás Maduro.

Venezuela’s once powerful oil minister, who resigned unexpectedly last year as prosecutors probed corruption and other wrongdoing at the highest levels of the state-run crude industry, has been arrested in connection with an alleged scheme that siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars from state coffers, the government announced Tuesday.

The Ministry of Communications released images of Tareck El Aissami being handcuffed and walking down a hallway flanked by officers. Attorney General Tarek William Saab told reporters that El Aissami will make his first court appearance Tuesday on charges that include treason, money laundering and criminal association.

Saab did not say when El Aissami was arrested.

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The oil minister resigned a few days before senior officials in the government of President Nicolás Maduro and business leaders were arrested in March 2023 as part of an investigation into the corruption scheme that was based on international oil sales. El Aissami disappeared from public life after the arrests and his whereabouts were frequently questioned.

FILE – Venezuelan Petroleum Minister Tareck El Aissami arrives at the 4F military museum where late President Hugo Chavez is buried, during the activities marking the 10th anniversary of Chavez’s death, in Caracas, Venezuela, March 15, 2023. Venezuela’s government announced on April 9, 2024, the arrest of El Aissami on alleged corruption allegations, about one year after his resignation. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix, File)

Saab said El Aissami’s arrest took time because of the various steps in the investigation. The top prosecutor tied the former minister to the alleged scheme that involved selling Venezuelan oil through the country’s cryptocurrency oversight agency in parallel to the state-run Petróleos de Venezuela SA.

Saab last year said the oversight agency allegedly signed contracts for the loading of crude on ships “without any type of administrative control or guarantees,” violating legal regulations. He said that once the oil was marketed, “the corresponding payments were not made” to the state oil company.

In announcing his resignation — seen as shocking from someone portrayed as a loyal ruling party member and considered a key figure in the government’s efforts to evade punishing international economic sanctions — El Aissami said he wanted to “fully support” the investigations.

The United States designated El Aissami a narcotics kingpin in 2017 in connection with activities in his previous positions as interior minister and governor.

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Corruption has long been rampant in Venezuela, which sits atop the world’s largest petroleum reserves. But officials are rarely held accountable — a major irritant to citizens.

SOURCE

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