CARACAS Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro announced the arrest of a senior tax official on Thursday in the latest move in what he says is a concerted effort to stamp out corruption in the South American OPEC nation.
Maduro said the local director of the SENIAT tax authority in the coastal city of La Guaira had been caught by state intelligence agents with more than 4 million bolivars in cash (about $635,000 at the official exchange rate).
"We raided the luxury apartment in eastern Caracas where this bandit was doing business. He was caught in the act with his accomplices," said Maduro, who won a presidential election in April after the death of his mentor, Hugo Chavez.
"He was walking around freely, personally taking bribes ... I call on everyone, the revolutionaries, the honest people, to support me in the fight against corruption."
So far, Maduro's new drive against graft has snared several senior officials from state companies, organizations and government ministries. None have been heavyweight leaders of the leftist "Chavismo" movement forged by his late mentor.
That has prompted opposition leaders such as Henrique Capriles, who lost April's election to Maduro, to accuse his administration of only going after smaller, less politically connected targets.
"Our country is governed by a cartel which has a boss, or various bosses, who use Venezuelans' resources like a network of extortion," Capriles said in an interview with local media.
Under pressure because of economic woes, Maduro has hit back with the launch of a government program called "Efficiency or Nothing," which involves undercover state inspectors investigating claims of corruption in publicly funded projects and organizations.
Among those caught in the latest dragnet have been a former president of a state mining company and various senior figures at the state's consumer protection body, Indepabis. Maduro was due to launch a restructured Indepabis later on Thursday.
"Some people are underestimating this fight," Maduro said in his televised comments. "We will catch them red-handed!"
(Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Eric Walsh)