Authorities in Venezuela have arrested two key officials from the company’s state-run oil company on alleged corruption charges, as socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro continues to tighten his grip on the industry and the country as a whole.
The engineer Eulogio Del Pino and chemist Nelson Martinez were both arrested on Thursday on charges of seeking to sabotage the country’s vital industry, the regime’s chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab announced.
Del Pino was accused of running a $500 million corruption operation with the Russian oil company Gazprombank, while Martinez supposedly approved an unfavorable refinancing deal with Venezuela’s Citgo Petroleum Corp, a U.S.-based refiner that he used to run without the regime’s approval.
“In the early hours of the morning, the Public Prosecutor’s Office together with officials of the Military Counterintelligence Directorate apprehended Nelson Martínez and Eulogio Del Pino,” Saab said in a state televised address, adding that the efforts were part of a “dismantling of a cartel of organized crime that had taken over Petroleum of Venezuela.”
The arrests come as Maduro seeks to take control of the company’s troubled state oil company by appointing loyal military generals to senior positions. Last Sunday, he appointed government loyalist Major General Manuel Quevedo, despite the fact he has no prior experience in oil operations.
Introducing himself to employees, Quevedo promised to launch a “crusade” against corruption and pledged to “consolidate the deepening of socialism” through the “total, absolute transformation of PDVSA” and turn the company into a “sacred temple of the people, be it the youth, families or workers.”
Internal sources told Reuters that Maduro would “militarize PDVSA in key areas” and would use unproven corruption allegations to fire dozens of the company’s most senior executives. Venezuela’s military remains the main apparatus keeping the repudiated Maduro in power, although their loyalty continues to be tested as the government’s human rights abuses continue to mount.
Around 65 executives have been arrested so far, causing panic amongst PDVSA employees and placing the vital industry in control of individuals with lesser or even no prior experience, despite the industry comprising 90 percent of Venezuela’s total export revenue.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to exert pressure on the company, with a number of economic sanctions banning American citizens from dealing with the company in any capacity.
In September, it emerged that despite having the largest oil reserves in the world, the crisis-stricken country was on the brink of running out of gasoline as a result of a chronic lack of production and a failure to pay shipping costs for imports.