Tareck El Aissami has been arrested
Tareck El Aissami has been arrested

A year after unexpectedly resigning amid a corruption scandal inside the state-run oil industry and subsequently disappearing from public sight, former Venezuelan oil minister Tareck El Aissami was arrested on Tuesday.

The country's Ministry of Communications released images of El Aissami being handcuffed while Attorney General Tarek William Saab confirmed to reporters that he will make his first court appearance on Tuesday on charges that include treason, money laundering and criminal association.

Former finance minister Simon Zerpa and businessman Sarmark Lopez have also been detained. Saab did not disclose when exactly all three men has been arrested.

During the first stage of the investigations, which started a year ago, 61 officials, politicians, and businessmen were arrested and accused of being involved in the embezzlement of more than 15 billion dollars. Now, in the second phase, an additional 50 people have already been apprehended - all of them charged - while the investigations remain open. Future actions have not been not ruled out.

In a lengthy press conference, Attorney general Saab explained that the arrest took time because of the various steps in the investigation. He then tied the former minister to the alleged scheme, which he said involved selling Venezuelan oil through the country's cryptocurrency oversight agency. Some of the most flagrant accusations include El Aissami using illicit funds for work on his private houses, requesting money be sent to foreign bank accounts and making use of U.S. sanctions as an excuse to directly manage shipments of crude, therefore avoiding passing funds through the country's central bank.

Back in March 2023, El Aissami's resignation came as a shock to many as he was portrayed for years as a loyal party member. Over the years he served as Minister of Oil, president of state-owned oil company PDVSA, vice president in the economic area, and head of Industry and Commerce. He was also a key figure in opening up the oil industry to Russia, Iran and China.

After becoming such a prominent figure in the Chavismo movement, he also became the target of international investigations, finding himself on the receiving end of U.S. sanctions. In March 2019, the Federal Court of Manhattan issued a sentence accusing El Aissami of drug trafficking. The United States Department of Treasury also denounced that El Aissami had protected and overseen large drug shipments coming from Venezuela destined for Mexico and the United States and the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) included him on the list of most wanted individuals.

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