CARACAS – Venezuela’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab said on Tuesday that his office had opened a criminal investigation into former oil minister and ex-head of state oil company PDVSA, Rafael Ramirez, over documents he said show he illegally acted as an intermediary in oil sales.
“We’ve decided to open a criminal investigation ... into Rafael Ramirez ... because in one of the documents we found that Diego Salazar specifically cites him as his direct partner in oil sale intermediation operations,” Saab said in a press conference.
The top prosecutor said the investigation was part of a probe the AG’s office is carrying out into the use of Andorran lender Banca Privada D’Andorra to launder some 4.2 billion euros ($5 billion) in state oil funds since 2006.
Salazar, a cousin of Ramirez’s who also formerly worked at PDVSA and has been arrested for alleged corruption and money laundering, was found in an Andorran court document dated Nov. 30, 2012, to have pointed to his relative as his partner in the intermediation operations, Saab said.
The Venezuelan AG’s office found that document in a safe-deposit box during a series of raids on Salazar’s properties, Saab said.
Ramirez stepped down from his position as Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations on Dec. 4, saying in a letter that leftist President Nicolas Maduro had asked him to resign.
“I was removed for my opinions,” Ramirez, Venezuela’s oil minister from 2002 to 2014, said in a tweet a day later in which he pledged loyalty to Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s late mentor and predecessor.
Ramirez had recently criticized Maduro’s stewardship of the oil-rich nation’s economy (currently in a deep recession) and defended his 2004-2014 tenure as head of PDVSA, which is the target of a thorough corruption investigation.
Ramirez, whose whereabouts is currently unknown, left the United States shortly after resigning.
At least 65 PDVSA officials – including its two most recent presidents, Eulogio del Pino and Nelson Martinez – have been jailed in recent weeks on corruption charges.