Venezuela's Maduro to replace oil minister, police arrest officials in corruption sweep
CARACAS, March 20 (Reuters) - Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro on Monday accepted the resignation of the country's powerful oil minister following the detention of at least six high level officials amid a corruption probe focused on state-run company PDVSA and the judiciary.
Tareck El Aissami had said earlier on Monday on Twitter he would resign to fully support the investigations. The probe especially touches PDVSA, which is supervised by the oil ministry.
Arresting government officials for corruption is rare in Venezuela, a country that rights groups such as Transparency International have described as opaque.
Maduro did not immediately name a replacement for El Aissami, who has served as vice president, and as a minister and mayor over the past two decades.
Maduro, who has led previous corruption sweeps, said in televised remarks that his government is committed to "going to the root" of corruption, calling the probe which began last year "professional, scientific and disciplined".
Appearing alongside heavyweights from his cabinet and the ruling party, Maduro added he plans to restructure PDVSA, but did not provide details.
El Aissami, who had been in his post since 2020, is under U.S. sanctions for alleged connections to drug trafficking, which he denies.
The anti-graft police arrested a mayor, two judges and three high-level government officials, at least two of whom are connected with PDVSA, state television and sources familiar with the matter said earlier on Monday.
The sources also said that at least 20 lower level officials at PDVSA have been arrested in recent days. The sources declined to be named due to fear of retaliation.
Neither PDVSA nor the prosecutor's office responded to requests for comment.
The arrested officials include Colonel Antonio Perez, a former vice president in charge of supply and trade at PDVSA, and Colonel Samuel Testamarck, general manager of PDVSA's maritime arm PDV Marina, the sources said.
The PDVSA arrests were linked to an investigation into oil cargoes leaving the country without due payment to the company, which also has led to other executives being suspended from their posts, one of the sources said.
PDVSA suffered heavy losses last year as tankers left Venezuela without proper payments being made for cargo. New PDVSA boss Pedro Tellechea ordered an audit and suspended oil supply contracts shortly after taking over the role in January.
Also arrested, state television said on Monday, were Mayor Pedro Hernandez of Las Tejerias, an area hit by floods that killed dozens late last year, and Joselit Ramirez, the former head of Venezuela's crypto-asset watchdog.
Ramirez had led since 2018 the body that issues Venezuela's official digital coin, the petro, but had been dismissed from the role, the official gazette said on Saturday. Pro-government newspaper Ultimas Noticias reported he is under investigation for cases linked to PDVSA.
Judges Cristobal Cornieles and Jose Marquez Garcia were also detained, state TV reported, without giving further details.
The arrests are the largest recent crackdown on alleged PDVSA corruption.
In 2017, several executives and two former presidents of the company were arrested, while in 2018 authorities detained a number of executives for administrative irregularities.
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.