Venezuela Cracks Down on Corruption at State-Owned Petroleum Company

Published: 10 April 2023

PDVSAEntrance of one of the headquarters of PDVSA, state-owned Venezuelan petroleum company. (Photo: Wilfredor, Wikimedia, License)

By Vinicius Madureira

Venezuela's chief prosecutor has said that his office has requested the police to search 142 locations nationwide and arrest 67 people in an anti-corruption operation that is targeting businessmen and officials at the state-owned petroleum company, PDVSA.

The suspects are believed to have run parallel oil operations.

Attorney General Tarek William Saab tweeted these numbers on Sunday, making it clear that more arrests should be expected after authorities apprehended 51 individuals last week.

According to investigators, the suspects used their positions to carry out illegal parallel oil operations where crude oil was sold to individuals and companies, but the payments never reached PDVSA.

Several companies supported the scheme by laundering the illegally obtained profits through crypto assets and investments in the construction and real estate sectors. The suspects also led a lavish lifestyle that did not match their income as public servants.

They allegedly recruited young people to include them in the money laundering network and rewarded them with an "excessive, luxurious, illegal and criminal lifestyle."

Attorney General Saab said last week that the country had requested from Spain, Italy, and the U.S. the extradition of four individuals involved in these corruption schemes.

The four are Rafael Reiter, a former high-ranking official at PDVSA, Rafael Ramírez, the former president of PDVSA as well as Nervis Villalobos and Javier Alvaro Ochoa, both former ministers.

The Public Prosecutor's Office said that Reiter would be willing to testify in the U.S. about the bribery scheme used by Ramírez to illegally enrich himself.

The allegations before the U.S. justice system would include Villalobos as responsible for channeling and managing the funds of the entire structure, as well as Diego Salazar, who managed bank accounts for Ramírez.

Saab said that those involved would receive the maximum penalty.