Venezuela arrests ex-oil czar’s brother in corruption probe

Venezuela arrests ex-oil czar’s brother in corruption probe
Venezuela arrests ex-oil czar’s brother in corruption probe

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela has sent the brother of the country’s former oil czar back to prison in an ongoing investigation into a multibillion-dollar embezzlement scheme at the state-owned oil company. .

Fidel Ramirez was arrested last Wednesday after failing to appear in court as required by his bail conditions, Venezuela’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab said in a brief interview with The Associated Press on Sunday. .

Ramirez was originally arrested in early 2018 for his alleged involvement in a decade-old scheme to siphon $2 billion from a bank account in the small European country of Andorra from state oil giant PDVSA.

At the time of the alleged crimes, PDVSA was under the leadership of his brother, former oil minister Rafael Ramirez, a harsh critic of the socialist government he once served.

Specifically, Fidel Ramirez, a doctor who once treated the late Hugo Chavez, is accused of amassing 250,000 euros in a Banca Privada d’Andorra, or BPA, account from allegedly fraudulent medical services he billed to PDVSA through two companies under other individuals’ names.

Banking authorities in Andorra, a mountainous country wedged between France and Spain, intervened in 2015 amid US Treasury Department allegations that it had become a central mouthpiece for elite money laundering. related to the government in Venezuela, Russia and China.

Rafael Ramirez did not immediately respond to a request for comment and has remained silent in recent days on social media, where he frequently takes swipes at the government of Nicolás Maduro and its repeated efforts to link him to corruption at PDVSA. The latest attempt came earlier this month when Saab, acting in response to complaints from current oil chief Tareck El Aissami, accused Ramirez of involvement in a $5 billion currency scheme involving fake loans to PDVSA from government insiders.

Ramirez was for years one of Chavez’s most trusted aides, tasked with managing the world’s largest oil reserves at a time of skyrocketing oil prices.

But when the late socialist icon fell ill, eventually dying of cancer, he saw his influence within the Bolivarian Revolution fade as his rival Maduro tightened his grip on power. He called the charges against him in Venezuela a witch hunt in retaliation for his decision to break with Maduro, whom he tried to overthrow as president. Italy, where Ramirez fled after he resigned as Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations in 2017, last year rejected Venezuela’s extradition request, saying he would face political persecution. if it was sent to the bank.

But Ramirez has also been on prosecutors’ radar in the United States, having been named – but not charged – in a partially unsealed 2018 indictment in Houston against five former PDVSA officials.

The indictment alleges that two of those charged told businessmen that the proceeds of bribes paid in exchange for prompt payments and contracts would be shared with a senior Venezuelan official. This official was identified in the unsealed portion of the indictment only as “Official B”. The unidentified Venezuelan politician is Ramirez, a US official told The Associated Press.

Corruption has long plagued Venezuela, which sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves, but those responsible are rarely held accountable – a major irritant for citizens, the majority of whom live on $1.90 a day, the international benchmark for extreme poverty.

Goodman reported from Miami

. Venezuela arrest brother the old tsar oil in a investigation on corruption

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