By Deisy Buitrago and Marianna Parraga
CARACAS - An expanding anti-corruption probe in Venezuela has led to the detention of 10 officials and 11 businessmen, the country's attorney general said on Saturday, adding that arrest warrants for 11 more people have been issued.
The investigation, which began in October, is focused on state oil company PDVSA, a government entity supervising crypto currency operations, and the judiciary. This week, it led to the resignation of the country's powerful oil minister, Tareck El Aissami, who had served the government for two decades.
"We are talking about one of the most lurid plots in recent years, which involves officials, businessmen who benefited from corruption and young people - including the so-called mafia women - who participated in corruption and money laundering," Attorney General Tarek Saab told journalists in a press conference.
A Venezuelan entity supervising the use of crypto currency for official transactions was assigned oil cargoes for sale with no administrative control, Saab said. Many of the buyers did not pay for the oil correspondingly, he added.
PDVSA has accumulated $21.2 billion in commercial accounts receivable since 2020 including $3.6 billion potentially unrecoverable, documents viewed by showed this week, after turning to dozens of little known intermediaries to export its oil under U.S. sanctions.
The 21 people arrested face accusations of appropriation of public assets, money laundering, influence peddling and criminal association. Officials involved could also face charges of treason, the attorney general said.
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, who said he has been directly overseeing the probe, this week appointed PDVSA's head Pedro Tellechea as new oil minister, delegating in him the supervision of the whole industry.
In the last five years, Saab's office has investigated 31 cases linked to corruption in Venezuela's oil industry, which provides most of the OPEC country's hard-currency revenue, leading to almost 200 people prosecuted.
(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago and Marianna Parraga; Editing by Marguerita Choy)