A congressional probe led by Venezuela’s opposition accused the country’s giant state oil company PDVSA of corruption on Wednesday over an allegedly unaccounted $11 billion of funds while powerful official Rafael Ramirez was at its helm from 2004 to 2014.
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“It is more than the budget of five Central American countries,” said commission president Freddy Guevara, of one of the most hardline opposition parties, alleging widespread malpractice at the company.
“We’re talking about $11 billion they cannot justify,” he added, presenting the report of the comptroller commission.
PDVSA manages the world’s largest reserves, brings in about 95 percent of Venezuela’s export revenues, and has been the financial motor for 17 years of socialist rule in the South American OPEC nation.
Critics and investigators have long accused it of corruption. But PDVSA says it is the victim of a right-wing campaign, led by the United States and compliant international media, to sabotage socialism in Venezuela.
Neither PDVSA nor Ramirez, who is currently Venezuela’s U.N. envoy, responded immediately to requests for comment on the report by the commission, whose chief function is to audit the government or government-linked companies.
Venezuela is immersed in a major economic and social crisis, worsened by the sharp decline in oil prices since mid-2014, that has led to shortages of food and medicine nationwide.
Raising the specter of default, PDVSA said on Monday it “could be difficult” to pay large looming debt commitments if a proposed $5.3 billion bond swap does not go through.
“If PDVSA is unable to pay its international creditors … it is because they robbed this money,” added Guevara, saying PDVSA bosses were abundantly aware of wrongdoings.
The congressional investigation focuses on 11 cases, ranging from a banking scandal in Andorra to alleged overpricing in purchases of oil equipment. The accusations are based in part on documents from PDVSA, auditor KPMG and foreign investigations.
The report is unlikely to go down well with President Nicolas Maduro’s government, which has sidelined Congress since the opposition won control in a December vote, calling it illegitimate and warning its days may be numbered.
The government-leaning Supreme Court has overturned all its major decisions, leaving the Congress toothless.
Ruling Socialist Party lawmakers did not attend Wednesday’s session, where the report into PDVSA was approved by the commission.
In the Andorran case, the United States alleged last year that a bank there had facilitated the laundering of $4.2 billion of Venezuelan money.
In another high-profile case, a Venezuelan businessman pleaded guilty in June in a U.S. court to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for his role in a scheme involving PDVSA officials, to which prosecutors traced more than $1 billion.
Current PDVSA president Eulogio Del Pino has in recent weeks accused media and opponents of inventing lies about the company.
He personally filed a lawsuit for defamation against one Venezuelan newspaper after it published an article saying PDVSA was in financial trouble.
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