Venezuela arrests ex-oil bosses for sabotage attempt and corruption | News | DW | 10.12.2017
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Venezuela arrests ex-oil bosses for sabotage attempt and corruption

Venezuela has arrested a former minister and ex-chief of the state oil company on corruption and sabotage charges. But opposition lawmakers have warned the arrests form part of the president's plans to consolidate power.

Venezuela's military on Thursday arrested former Oil Minister Eulogio del Pino and ex-chief of state oil company PDVSA Nelson Martinez days after they were sacked from their jobs by President Nicolas Maduro.

Venezuela's chief prosecutor said the arrests were part of an operation targeting 16 people, including some who were "outside of the country."

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"We're talking about the dismantling of a cartel of organized crime that had taken over PDVSA," said Attorney General Tarek William Saab.

Del Pino and Martinez are the highest-ranking officials to be swept up in an anti-corruption purge at the state oil giant. Both men were accused of graft and attempting to sabotage the country's energy industry.

Venezuelan authorities last week arrested six executives of PDVSA's US-based subsidiary Citgo on suspicions that they signed contracts to refinance billions of dollars in debt without receiving prior approval from the government.

Nicolas Maduro's presidency has been plagued by violent protests calling for him to step down

Nicolas Maduro's presidency has been plagued by violent protests calling for him to step down

Power grab

However, analysts and opposition lawmakers believe Maduro is attempting to consolidate power across key institutions. Maduro has witnessed support for his presidency plummet after his government failed to redress an ever-growing economic crisis despite hosting the largest oil reserves in the world.

The Venezuelan president appointed Manuel Quevedo, a former general, to replace del Pino and Martinez, who were arrested on Thursday. The military has been instrumental in preserving Maduro's government, with at least one-third of the cabinet filled with current or former military officers.

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Earlier this week, Maduro announced he would seek a second term in elections slated for 2018. "We will have – God willing, people willing – the re-election of our brother Nicolas Maduro as president of the republic," said Venezuela's Vice President Tareck El Aissami.

Maduro's government has struggled to pull the country out of economic downturn following the collapse of oil price, while US sanctions have made it harder for the country to operate in international credit markets.

Earlier this month, Caracas stopped short of defaulting on its international loans after Russia agreed to restructure $3.15 billion (2.67 billion euros) of debt the country took out in 2011 to purchase Russian weapons.

ls/jm (Reuters, AFP)

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