Chevron to continue Venezuela operations despite employee arrests

US energy giant Chevron says it will maintain its operations in Venezuela despite the recent arrest of two of its employees

Caracas (AFP) – US energy giant Chevron will maintain its operations in Venezuela despite the recent arrests of two of its employees, the company said Wednesday.

Carlos Algarra and Rene Vasquez, who work for Petropiar — joint-owned by Chevron and state oil firm PDVSA — were reportedly arrested on April 16 after refusing to sign a supply contract with PDVSA due to high costs and a lack of competitive bids.

“Chevron has an executive team in Venezuela. Our operations will continue,” a company source told AFP.

Venezuelan authorities last August launched a drive against corruption within PDVSA, with around 80 officials taken into custody — among them 22 executives and two former presidents.

Although admitting he did not know the Chevron case in detail, Venezuelan foreign minister Jorge Arreaza defended the attorney general’s actions to combat corruption in the oil industry and promised respect for due process.

“If you have to prove innocence, you have to do it in front of the authorities and not flee,” he said in New York, referencing Chevron’s evacuation of executives in the wake of the arrests.

The attorney general’s office did not respond to AFP’s requests for comment.

In a statement, Chevron said last week that it is governed by “a code of business ethics,” which complies with all relevant Venezuelan and US laws.

“The company is in contact with Venezuelan authorities. Our priority is the security of the employees and their prompt release,” the source said.

“We are cooperating with Venezuelan authorities to understand the process. We don’t know the basis of the accusations.”

The socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro has admitted that corruption, mismanagement and falling oil prices led to oil production falling to the lowest levels in three decades, compounding the country’s liquidity problems.

“Unfortunately in our oil industry, and as a result in our relationships with other businesses, cases of corruption emerged,” Arreaza said Wednesday.

According to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), production dropped in March to 1.5 million barrels per day, compared with 2.23 in March 2017.

Venezuela, which is the most oil-rich country in the world but has been in recession since 2014, earns 96 percent of its income from oil — with the fall in revenue aggravating its economic crisis.