Venezuela Arrests Former Oil Bosses in Corruption Purge

Venezuela Arrests Former Oil Bosses in Corruption PurgeVenezuela Arrests Former Oil Bosses in Corruption Purge

Venezuelan authorities on Thursday arrested two once-powerful officials who had run the oil ministry and state energy company PDVSA as part of a deepening industry purge by President Nicolas Maduro.

In the highest-profile arrests to date, engineer Eulogio Del Pino and chemist Nelson Martinez were detained early on Thursday on accusations of graft and seeking to sabotage the nation’s ailing energy industry, prosecutor Tarek Saab said in a televised speech, Reuters reported.

He accused Del Pino of participating in a $500 million corruption and sabotage scheme at the Petrozamora joint venture with Russia’s Gazprombank and said Martinez had allowed a poor refinancing deal for Venezuela’s Citgo Petroleum Corp, a US-based refiner that he used to lead, to go ahead without government approval.

“We’re talking about the dismantling of a cartel of organized crime that had taken over PDVSA,” Saab said as state television flashed a video of armed military intelligence agents knocking on doors and images of the two men being handcuffed and arrested.

Maduro has promised a vast anti-corruption purge to cleanse the oil industry of “mafias.” Some 65 executives have been detained so far, panicking PDVSA workers, depriving Venezuela’s oil industry of much of its top brass, and stalling decision-making in the company overseeing the world’s biggest crude reserves, insiders say.

The opposition dismisses the probe as a power struggle within Maduro’s inner circle, noting that the industry has been under the tight control of the ruling Socialist Party since early in the late president Hugo Chavez’s 14-year rule.

They say authorities ridiculed and dismissed a report last year by the opposition-run congress, which concluded that some $11 billion went missing at PDVSA over a decade when Del Pino and Martinez were both influential officials.

In a video recorded before his arrest that he published on his Twitter account on Thursday afternoon, Del Pino defended himself and said he was the “victim” of an “unjustified attack,” but did not elaborate on who was to blame for his arrest.

“We know there are irregularities, and I am the first who, through internal control mechanisms ... (made us) denounce and push ahead with investigations,” said a tired-looking Del Pino.

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