Former Venezuelan oil minister is arrested in connection with corruption probe, authorities say

Full Screen
1 / 3

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

FILE - Venezuelan Petroleum Minister Tareck El Aissami arrives at the 4F military museum where late President Hugo Chavez is buried, during the activities marking the 10th anniversary of Chavez's death, in Caracas, Venezuela, March 15, 2023. Venezuelas government announced on April 9, 2024, the arrest of El Aissami on alleged corruption allegations, about one year after his resignation. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix, File)

CARACAS – Venezuela’s once-powerful oil minister, who resigned unexpectedly last year during a corruption probe at the top ranks of the state-run crude industry, has been arrested, the government said Tuesday. The former oil czar is being investigated over an alleged scheme through which hundreds of millions of dollars in oil proceeds seemingly disappeared.

The Ministry of Communications released images of Tareck El Aissami being handcuffed and walking down a hallway, flanked by officers. Attorney General Tarek William Saab told reporters that El Aissami will make his first court appearance on Tuesday on charges that include treason, money laundering and criminal association.

Recommended Videos

Saab did not say when El Aissami was arrested.

The oil minister resigned a few days before senior officials in the government of President Nicolás Maduro and business leaders were arrested in March 2023 as part of an investigation into the corruption scheme that was based on international oil sales. El Aissami disappeared from public life after the arrests and his whereabouts were frequently questioned.

Saab said El Aissami’s arrest took time because of the various steps in the investigation. The top prosecutor tied the former minister to the alleged scheme that involved selling Venezuelan oil through the country’s cryptocurrency oversight agency in parallel to the state-run Petróleos de Venezuela S.A., commonly known as PDVSA.

Saab last year said the oversight agency allegedly signed contracts for the loading of crude on ships “without any type of administrative control or guarantees,” violating legal regulations. He said that once the oil was marketed, “the corresponding payments were not made” to the state oil company.

Saab on Tuesday called El Aissami a “master” of corruption who “thought he would never be arrested.” The attorney general added that five people previously arrested as part of the investigation had received death threats while in jail — after they agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Saab alleged that those involved in the criminal structure “received the dividends from the sale of crude oil and traded these sums of money in different foreign currencies that they converted to crypto assets to mobilize this digital money" and make it untraceable to regulatory agencies.

In announcing his resignation — seen as shocking from someone portrayed as a loyal ruling party member and considered a key figure in the government’s efforts to evade punishing international economic sanctions — El Aissami said he wanted to “fully support” the investigations.

The United States designated El Aissami a narcotics kingpin in 2017, in connection with activities in his previous positions as interior minister and governor.

Corruption has long been rampant in Venezuela, which sits atop the world’s largest petroleum reserves. But officials are rarely held accountable — a major irritant to citizens.

More than 50 people have been arrested for their alleged roles in the scheme, including El Aissami’s close associate Joselit Ramirez, who was Venezuela’s cryptocurrency regulator until his March 2023 detention.

Dozens of obscure brokers are at the center of corruption investigation.

The government has not said exactly how much money the state lost as a result of the shadowy transactions. But internal PDVSA documents obtained by The Associated Press last year show the state oil company was owed $10.1 billion as of August 2022 from 90 mostly unknown trading companies that emerged as major buyers of Venezuelan crude since the U.S. imposed economic sanctions in a campaign to oust Maduro.

An additional $13.3 billion, corresponding to 241 shipments, was owed directly to the government as a result of an accounting maneuver by PDVSA that reassigned responsibility for collecting the unpaid invoices directly to the Maduro administration in lieu of cash royalties.

All the oil cargo was sold on consignment at a deep discount owing to the sanctions, which have scared away more established traders. To avoid Western banks, Venezuela started accepting payments in Russian rubles, bartered goods or cryptocurrency, but not everyone paid.


Garcia Cano reported from Mexico City.


Follow AP’s coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean at

Recommended Videos