Venezuela Arrests 2 Former Oil Officials, Claiming Corruption

Venezuela Arrests 2 Former Oil Officials, Claiming Corruption

In a video posted on Mr. Del Pino’s Twitter account and apparently recorded before his arrest, he said he had been the victim of an unjustified attack.

Corruption at Venezuela’s state oil company has never been a secret, analysts say. What has changed, many argue, are the fortunes of President Nicolás Maduro, who is seeking to remain in power despite two years of food and medicine shortages and a looming, potentially catastrophic, default on its foreign debt.

“Why the focus on this so suddenly?” said David Smilde, a political-science professor who studies Venezuela at Tulane University. “There’s a need to find a scapegoat for the country’s economic crisis.”


Eulogio del Pino, center, a former Venezuelan oil minister, at a meeting in Algeria in 2016. He was arrested on Thursday.

Sidali Djarboub/Associated Press

The Venezuelan government is almost entirely dependent on oil revenues for income, and years of price declines combined with a production collapse at the company has taken a heavy toll.

Now Petróleos de Venezuela, known as Pdvsa, is effectively in default on its $26.5 billion in unsecured bonds, and it faces claims of $60 billion in missed payments from contractors and service companies that drill and maintain its fields. Sanctions by the Trump administration are blocking the flow of money to Pdvsa. A disorderly default could prompt bondholders to seize the assets of Citgo.

Amid the turmoil, Mr. Maduro appointed Manuel Quevedo, a military general, to lead Pdvsa this week. But far from setting the stage for a turnaround for the company, skeptics said, the move may deepen the company’s woes as it cements the allegiance of the armed forces to Mr. Maduro, allowing the military to profit from Pdvsa’s petrodollars.

“Maduro is focused on the challenges of survival,” said Francisco J. Monaldi, a Venezuelan energy expert at Rice University. “This is not a move you make to calm the international markets that Pdvsa will need to reverse the collapse.”

Some said the arrest of Mr. Del Pino in particular seemed to be motivated by politics.

Mr. Del Pino, like many of the Pdvsa officials arrested recently, was close to Rafael Ramírez, another former top official of the oil company, who has publicly criticized Mr. Maduro this year from his post as Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations.

On Wednesday, Reuters reported that Mr. Ramírez had been stripped of his post. The government did not confirm the ambassador’s status.

“Maduro wants to send a message that there’s no room for political debate,” Mr. Smilde said.

Mr. Monaldi said that while the company had not been transparent during the tenures of Mr. Del Pino or Mr. Martínez, transgressions such as filing inflated production figures were most likely ordered by the government itself to improve its balance sheet.

“It’s largely a political vendetta,” he said of the charges.

It was certainly a change of fortunes for the two men, whom Mr. Maduro praised on television in August when he named them to their positions. “Two cleanup hitters ready for the battle,” Mr. Maduro said, using a baseball reference.

Mr. Del Pino smiled and Mr. Martínez clapped.

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