Venezuela’s ex-oil minister charged with stealing millions from state oil company | Venezuela

Venezuela’s former oil minister Tarek el Aissami, once one of President Nicolas Maduro’s closest allies, has been arrested on suspicion of participating in an international scheme that siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars from the country’s state oil company.

The charges against El Aissami are part of a broader purge by the government that has so far led to charges against more than 50 people, including Venezuela’s most important political and business figures.

Attorney General Tarek Saab announced at a press conference on Tuesday that former finance minister Simon Zerpa and businessman Samark López were also arrested for their involvement in the alleged conspiracy.

Saab said El Aissami and his co-conspirators illegally controlled oil shipments bypassing the country’s central bank, allowing them to profit from an “economic conspiracy.” Ta.

Saab described the plan as a conspiracy to “destroy Venezuela’s economy.”

El Aissami’s arrest caps a stunning reversal of fortune for a politician who used his Middle Eastern connections to become one of Maduro’s closest friends.

Images released by Venezuela’s Ministry of Communications on Tuesday show El Aissami, who has not been seen in public since March 2023, being handcuffed and taken to a cell by balaclava-wearing police officers. It was shown that

El Aissami, a former protégé of Maduro’s former president Hugo Chávez, resigned as oil minister in March 2023 amid a full-scale corruption investigation into Venezuela’s state oil company. The United States has offered drug trafficker El Aissami a $10 million reward.

Human rights groups say the regime of Nicolas Maduro is rounding up politicians, human rights activists and critics to ensure the autocratic leader is re-elected as president in elections scheduled for July. It warns that

The United States lifted oil sanctions on Venezuela last year to encourage President Maduro to hold free and fair elections, but powerful politicians have shown little interest in fair elections and have shut out popular opposition candidates. There is.