(Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan authorities announced 11 arrest warrants on Saturday in a widening corruption probe centered on billions of dollars in missing oil revenue that has reached the ruling elite’s inner circle.
Public Prosecutor Tarek William Saab said 21 people have already been detained for an alleged scheme to sell Venezuelan crude through the country’s cryptocurrency oversight agency without due payment to state-run oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA. Joselit Ramírez, who managed crypto payments to state agencies, is among those detained, Saab said.
Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami, a close ally of President Nicolás Maduro who hasn’t been formally implicated in the investigation, resigned last week.
Venezuela is ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world and Maduro is attempting to crack down on graft ahead of a presidential election in 2024, in which he’s likely to run for a third six-year term.
Saab confirmed the arrest of ruling-party lawmaker Hugbel Roa, who was stripped of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution this week. A former technology minister, Roa had a key role in promoting the Petro, a sovereign cryptocurrency proposed by Maduro in 2017 to get around US attempts to restrict Venezuela’s access to the global financial system.
Roa and Ramírez allegedly were part of a network of money laundering recruits who were “rewarded with a luxury lifestyle,” said Saab, who displayed videos of armored vehicles, packs of dollar bills and private planes used by the accused.
Government officials will face treason charges in addition to illicit appropriation and money laundering, Saab said.
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