Venezuelan authorities have arrested two former bosses of the country’s giant oil industry on accusations of helping a coup plot.
Former oil minister Eulogio del Pino and Nelson Martinez, the ex-chief of state oil company PDVSA, were arrested early on Thursday.
Venezuela’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab said the two were detained as part of an operation by the Military Counterintelligence Unit “to dismantle the cartel that has been hitting the oil industry.”
The attorney said 14 other people were the target of the operation and that some were not in Venezuela.
“We hope they will be delivered to Venezuelan justice,” he said, without elaborating on the identity of the suspects.
Authorities also ordered the arrest of six executives of Citgo Petroleum Corp, the US-based subsidiary of PDVSA, last week, saying the people had received bribes worth more than $50 million to sign contracts to refinance $4 billion in debt without government approval.
All those targeted in the government’s purge in the oil industry are believed to be allies of Venezuela's former oil minister Rafael Ramirez. The man, once known as Venezuela’s oil czar, is reportedly stripped of his UN post as ambassador, sources with knowledge of the matter said on Wednesday.
Ramirez, who was Venezuela’s oil minister for 10 years beginning in 2004 and during the time of former president Hugo Chavez, fell from the grace under the leadership of incumbent President Nicolas Maduro when he published a series of opinions criticizing PDVSA for reducing crude production. He also censured Maduro’s government for not doing enough to contain an economic crisis rooted in the slump in oil prices in recent years.
Manuel Quevedo, a former general close to Maduro, takes over from the two industry veterans. He has defended the arrests of his predecessors, saying they were helping a coup plot by sabotaging oil production.
“This sabotage plan is aimed at achieving a repeat of 2002-03 when there was an attempted coup against Chavez," Quevedo said while in Vienna to attend an OPEC meeting.
Venezuela resides on one of the world's biggest reserves of oil.
The country’s output has recently slumped, standing at around two million barrels per day.