Venezuela arrests former oil bosses in corruption purge

 30 Nov 2017 - 20:01

Venezuela arrests former oil bosses in corruption purge
A general view of the headquarters of the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA in Caracas, Venezuela, July 21, 2016. (Reuters / Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

AFP

Caracas:  Venezuela's military on Thursday arrested the country's former oil minister and the ex-chief of state oil company PDVSA after both men were sacked as part of an anti-corruption crackdown.

Attorney General Tarek William Saab told journalists that an operation by the Military Counterintelligence Unit "led to the arrests of Eulogio del Pino and Nelson Martinez."

Both former officials were arrested at dawn at their homes, four days after they were axed from their jobs by President Nicolas Maduro.

State television images showed black-clad security forces, their faces covered and armed with rifles, knocking on the door of Del Pino's apartment.

When he emerged, dressed in shorts and Venezuela soccer shirt, the powerful former ally of the president had to provide a fingerprint sample.

Saab said the arrests were part of an operation "to dismantle the cartel that has been hitting the oil industry."

He said he had ordered the arrests of 16 people as part of the operation, some of whom were "outside the country and we hope they will be delivered to Venezuelan justice."

Del Pino and Martinez are the highest-ranking officials arrested as part of an anti-corruption purge at PDVSA, the state oil giant which accounts for almost all the country's income.

Oil minister Manuel Quevedo, a former general installed to replace both men, told reporters at an OPEC meeting in Vienna that Venezuela's oil production was being sabotaged as a preamble to a coup.

"This sabotage plan is aimed at achieving a repeat of 2002-03 when there was an attempted coup against (Hugo) Chavez," the former president, Quevedo said.

The South American country, teetering on the brink of a full-blown default on its massive debt pile, has the world's biggest reserves of oil.

But because of endemic corruption and a chronic lack of investment, the OPEC member's production is falling sharply.

Annual output is around 1.9 million barrels per day, having slumped more than 23 percent between January 2016 and October this year.