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Venezuela Arrests Ex-Oil Minister for Corruption

Venezuelan authorities have arrested the country’s former oil minister, Tareck El Aissami on allegations of corruption.

According to information released by the Venezuelan government and cited by the AP, El Aissami was arrested for a scheme that siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars in oil revenue from the state. The charges brought against the former official include money laundering, treason, and criminal association.

El Aissami was oil minister until March last year when he announced his resignation amid a corruption scandal at state energy company PDVSA. The scandal concerned the apparent disappearance of as much as $3 billion from oil sales.

It is as a result of the investigation following that scandal that El Aissami was arrested. The AP cited Venezuela’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab as saying the arrest took a while because of “the various steps” of the investigation that uncovered a mechanism for selling oil through the country’s cryptocurrency control agency in addition to the official channel of PDVSA.

Right now, Venezuela’s government and the state oil company should be bracing up for the return of U.S. sanctions. These could snap back as soon as April 18, when the six-month sanction suspension expires.

The easing of sanctions authorized the production, lifting, sale, and exportation of oil or gas from Venezuela, and the provision of related goods and services, as well as payment of invoices for goods or services related to oil or gas sector operations in Venezuela.

That suspension was based on the commitment of the Venezuelan government to hold fair and free elections but Maduro blocked opposition candidate Maria Corina Machado from running in the elections, which Washington signaled was not what the two sides had agreed.

The suspension of sanctions allowed Chevron to return to Venezuela and helped the country boost its oil production. A new market was also on the horizon as Europe sought to diversify its oil supplier base.

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All this could end before it really began if sanctions return on April 18.

By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com

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