Venezuela’s ex-oil minister charged with stealing millions from state oil company

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Venezuela’s former oil minister Tareck El Aissami – once one of the closest allies of Nicolás Maduro – has been arrested for allegedly participating in an international scheme that syphoned off hundreds of millions of dollars from the country’s state oil company.

The charges against El Aissami are part of a wider government purge that has so far led to charges being brought against more than 50 people, including some of Venezuela’s most important political and business figures.

Former finance minister Simon Zerpa and businessman Samark López were also arrested for their role in the alleged plot, said Tarek Saab said at a press conference on Tuesday.

The attorney general said El Aissami and his co-conspirators had illegally managed shipments of oil without sending the payments through the country’s central bank, which allowed them to profit from the “economic conspiracy”.

Saab described the scheme as a conspiracy to “destroy Venezuela’s economy”.

El Aissami’s arrest caps a remarkable reversal of fortunes for the politician who used his Middle Eastern connections to become one of Maduro’s closest confidantes.

Images released by Venezuela’s communications ministry on Tuesday showed El Aissami – who had not been seen publicly since March 2023 – in handcuffs being escorted to a cell by balaclava-clad police officers.

Once a protege of Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, El Aissami stepped down as oil minister in March 2023 as investigations into corruption at Venezuela’s state oil firm gathered pace. The US has put out a $10m reward for El Aissami for drug trafficking.

Rights groups warn that Nicolás Maduro’s government is rounding up politicians, human rights advocates and critics in an effort to ensure the autocratic leader is re-elected as president in elections expected for July.

The US lifted oil sanctions on Venezuela last year to encourage Maduro to hold free and fair elections, but the strongman has shown little interest in a fair contest and has barred popular opposition candidates.


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