Venezuela names new leaders at oil firm PDVSA to 'defeat corruption'

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s president on Sunday created an executive vice president post and named new vice presidents to lead PDVSA in what he described as a shake-up of the state oil company and an effort to root out corruption in the OPEC nation’s principal industry.

The logo of the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA is seen at a gas station in Caracas, Venezuela January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro kept Eulogio Del Pino as PDVSA president but created a new post of executive vice president while naming vice presidents in areas including finance and exploration.

PDVSA has been dogged for years by corruption ranging from lucrative smuggling of heavily subsidized fuel to kickbacks and bribery that led to prosecution of U.S.-based contractors who did business with the company.

“We have to clean out the corruption that has incubated in (the oil industry), I call on the oil workers to forcefully defeat corruption,” Maduro said in his weekly broadcast.

“That’s why I have asked Eulogio del Pino ... to lead this new leadership team and focus one hundred percent on the industry this year.”

Leadership changes at PDVSA in recent years have not significantly altered the company’s management style, which has been characterized by heavy social spending, slumping crude production, and chronic payment disputes with suppliers.

Maribel Parra, who Maduro identified as a rear admiral in the armed forces, takes up the newly created post of executive vice president.

The new finance vice president is Simon Zerpa, who has led a bilateral Venezuela-China fund through which Caracas has borrowed billions of dollars from Beijing that it repays in oil and fuel shipments.

Venezuela is battling triple-digit inflation and a severe recession as a result of low oil prices and an unraveling socialist economic system, leaving millions of citizens struggling to eat and waiting for hours in supermarket lines.

Maduro says his government is a victim of an “economic war” led by his adversaries.

Corruption at PDVSA was put on display in U.S. courts last year when businessmen Roberto Rincon and Abraham Shiera pleaded guilty to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by paying bribes to PDVSA officials to secure energy contracts.

Former PDVSA employees also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering. The company at the time described the charges as a smear campaign against it.

Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe