By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA said Tuesday hundreds of its employees had been arrested and/or fired in a “deepening” anti-corruption (the company calls it “alleged corruption”) probe at one of the largest oil companies in the planet.
PDVSA “informs that it is deepening actions tending towards fighting cases of alleged corruption detected inside the corporation,” the company said in a press release.
The state oil company is in deep, deep trouble: saddled with a mounting debt, declining production (PDVSA is producing half of its 1998 output), a payroll laden with thousands of militants from ruling party PSUV, frequent and tragic accidents (the biggest in Venezuelan history in 2012) and increasing difficulties in servicing its billion-dollar debt.
“Continuing the frontal fight against this scourge, there are now at the orders of the Attorney General’s Office a total of 112 persons with the objective of determining their penal responsibilities,” the statement added.
In Venezuela this means that over 100 individuals have been presented by law enforcement at a hearing with the accusing party and the trial is continuing but no verdict has been handed down.
Additionally, 249 employees have been fired and contracts with eleven parties have been terminated. Getting fired is an extremely rare event for a PDVSA employee: It is forbidden by law to fire somebody in Venezuela on the “labor immobility” decree and oil unions are very strong.
In the U.S., senators and the executive are investigating a deal between PDVSA and Russia’s Rosneft that the Latin American Herald Tribune
uncovered that could place Venezuelan-owned oil assets there, including refineries and pipelines, in Moscow’s hands.
All in all, PDVSA says 765 investigation cases have been launched, of which 390 have been closed and 375 are still in process.
PDVSA “reaffirms its commitment with the Venezuelan people and continues a strong struggle against corruption. Besides that, the corporation reinforces every mechanism of internal control of the Nation’s main industry with the finality of avoiding deviations in proceedings and norms,” the statement ends by saying.
The company was producing above 3.6 million oil barrels per day (bpd) in 1999 when President Hugo Chavez (Nicolas Maduro’s mentor and predecessor) took over. Production fell below 2mm bpd this year according to OPEC.
PDVSA controlled the Venezuelan oil industry since the 1976 nationalization, but opened the industry up to joint ventures as oil prices plummeted in the 1990s. After billions in investments from international oil companies, Chavez then nationalized many of those oil projects, a move that is widely credited with hindering production.
Since 2006, Chavez started selling PDVSA assets in Europe, the Caribbean and particularly in the U.S. claiming they were “a bad business.” Maduro continued the practice, selling U.S. assets and mortgaging what was left to Rosneft in 2016, a deal that is being investigated by US lawmakers.
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