Arrests in Venezuela probe of oil company PDVSA climb to 34

<html xmlns=""><head><title>UPDATE 2-Arrests in Venezuela probe of oil company PDVSA climb to 34</title></head><body>

Adds extradition requests, ex-company president's comment

By Mayela Armas and Deisy Buitrago

CARACAS, April 5 (Reuters) -The number of people arrested as part of a corruption investigation at Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA has risen to 34, Attorney General Tarek Saab said on Wednesday.

Investigations into state companies including PDVSA and metals conglomerate Corporacion Venezolana de Guayana (CVG) have resulted in dozens of arrests over the last several weeks.

"We are waging a hard and historic battle against the scourge of corruption," Saab said during a news conference. "We have 34 people detained just in this case."

Those arrested are officials and financial operators, he said, adding the case includes people connected to the government's crypto-currency entity.

Fifty-one people have been detained overall in the various corruption investigations, he added.

The PDVSA investigation prompted the resignation in March of oil minister Tareck El Aissami, long prominent in the government of President Nicolas Maduro. He was replaced by Pedro Rafael Tellechea, who had been named to head PDVSA in January.

Asked if El Aissami will be investigated, Saab said he would only speak about those currently under arrest.

Last week Maduro suspended a committee created in 2020 to restructure PDVSA, promising a new process to audit its accounts and uncover corruption.

Venezuela's need for dollars to shore up its exchange rate and enable government largesse ahead of 2024 elections is among the motives for the crackdown, sources have told Reuters.

The arrests of officials from PDVSA are linked to an investigation into heavy losses suffered last year as tankers left the country carrying cargoes that had not been fully paid for, sources have said.

PDVSA has accumulated $21.2 billion in unpaid bills, according to documents.

Saab repeated a request for authorities in Italy, Spain and the United States to extradite former PDVSA officials, including ex-company president Rafael Ramirez, who the government accuses of involvement in previous corruption.

"The attorney general has the deliberate purpose of diverting attention from the great scandal that's come to light," Ramirez told Reuters, adding allegations against him are false.

Italy has repeatedly denied extradition requests for Ramirez.

Reporting by Mayela Armas and Deisy Buitrago in Caracas, additional reporting by Marianna Parraga in Houston; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; editing by Grant McCool


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