Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced in a press conference that the government has placed two ex-presidents of the national oil company, PDVSA, under detention for their role in illicit contracts to refinance the Venezuelan national debt with two U.S. equity funds companies.
Saab said these weren't "isolated arrests," but a fight against a level of "corruption" he hasn't seen in Venezuelan history, stressing that perpetrators won't be "immune" to consequences and punishment anymore.
He added that in total 65 directors or ex-directs within the PDVSA and its U.S. subsidiary, Citgo, have been arrested so far in relation to the attempted illegal refinancing of the debt, using Citgo as collateral.
Saab, who was appointed attorney general in August, underscored throughout the press conference that these arrests are linked to a "cartel" of corruption within the PDVSA, Citgo, and government ministries that he and local attorney general offices are combatting.
The attorney general said that Interpol has placed the search and arrest of other executives complicit in the corruption and embezzlement ring on "red alert."
He accused previous attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz of being complicit in the PDVSA scandal altering accounting to cover up the embezzlement while she was in office.
Saab reiterated that these actions weakened Venezuela's democracy and only hurt the Venezuelan people and the petroleum industry. He and his office estimate that the cartel cost the government 15 million barrels of oil per day between 2014 and 2017, adding to the current Venezuelan deficit.
The attorney general said his office is working to "recuperate the dignity" of Venezuela and recapture the stolen funds.
Saab also stated that 15 employees, four of whom are administrators, were arrested at the Miranda Port Terminal in the coastal state of Zulia for allowing the illegal siphoning off of PDVSA petroleum from port reserves. In addition, the ex-director of the Ministry of Popular Power was arrested in relation to corruption and collusion.
Authorities were first alerted to the possibility of corruption after PDVSA was linked to the Orinoco Oil Belt where a scandal was recently discovered.
"We will get to the bottom of everything that has to do with the PDVSA subsidiaries," Saab said.
Venezuela’s newly appointed Minister of Petroleum and Energy Major General Manuel Quevedo explained corruption within PDVSA partially sabotaged the business, he said, however, plans to restructure the company are underway on both the administrative and operative levels.
"We have had to detain more than 20 people who have been involved in a sabotage plan of production ... it has been an orchestrated plan," he said, adding that the state is currently trying to reverse the damage and return production to its former level.
"The corruption plots are not only in PDVSA,” said Saab. “It is Cadivi-Cencoex, the Panama Papers, Odebrecht," he said, calling on Venezuelans with evidence to support suspected corruption to come forward.
PDVSA is responsible for the 90 percent of the nation’s income. Current production rates are standing at 1.9 million barrels, the lowest it’s been in decades.