Venezuela detains 44 officials in corruption probe

Government cracks down on embezzlement that is believed to have cost it billions of dollars.

Venezuela's chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab attends a news conference, in Caracas
Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab is leading the crackdown on corruption. The amount of money embezzled from the government has not been disclosed, but press reports say it is at least $3bn [File: Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/Reuters]

At least 44 people have been arrested in Venezuela in an anti-corruption sweep of the state oil company PDVSA and other related government bodies.

The crackdown began on March 17 after a communique was issued by the anti-corruption police, who called for the prosecution of officials who “could be involved in serious acts of corruption and embezzlement”.

So far, the country’s powerful oil minister, Tareck El Aissami, has resigned over the graft investigation, and Attorney General Tarek William Saab said on Twitter on Sunday that the prosecutor’s office has detained “44 subjects linked to various corruption schemes that have sought to embezzle … from the national economy.”

Translation: To date, the @MinpublicoVEN (the Public Ministry) has achieved, together with the auxiliary bodies, the detention of 44 subjects linked to various corruption schemes that have sought to embezzle (in its criminal immorality) from the national economy, harming the community at large. 

The most recent high-profile arrest was Pedro Maldonado, president of the state-owned mining company Corporacion Venezolana de Guayana, as well as officials from the metals firm SIDOR.

The officials were charged with appropriating public funds, money laundering, influence peddling and treason, the prosecutor said during a press conference on March 25.

Judicial sources told the AFP news agency that Maldonado, who was formerly director of the Central Bank of Venezuela, was part of a corruption scheme led by former legislator Hugbel Roa, who was arrested in the crackdown and was for years an important leader of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

El Aissami, who is under US sanctions, is also part of the ruling party and had previously served as Venezuela’s vice president and minister of the interior and industry.

So far, the amount embezzled has not been disclosed, but press reports place it at least at $3bn.

Although corruption has long been rampant in Venezuela, arresting government officials for corrupt practices is rare in a country with the world’s largest petroleum reserves. The fact that officials are rarely held accountable is a major irritant to citizens, the majority of whom  live on less than $1.90 a day, the international benchmark of extreme poverty.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies