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More arrests, corruption, and crisis in Venezuela

Tarek William Saab, the general prosecutor imposed in Venezuela (REUTERS/Leonardo Fernández Viloria)

Transparencia Venezuela updated the inventory of cases of Grand Corruption registered in its interactive tool, Corruptómetro . The organization’s new report counted the public money diverted from 153 incomplete or unstarted works, despite the fact that the resources were disbursed, totaling an amount in excess of US$316 billion lost amid embezzlement, opacity and lack of accountability. That figure, according to Transparencia Venezuela, represents 7 times the 2021 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Venezuela, even though it does not include all the detected works, which amount to 246.

“These are works approved by the national Executive that have not been completed and/or were not started, but resources were approved and/or disbursed to them. Many of them are in a total state of abandonment, they are lost and dismantled infrastructures. There are from hospitals, of which only a fence is evident; schools that were to be rehabilitated but ended up in worse conditions, and residential complexes that only have some foundations laid, to large infrastructure works that would cover several states of the country, such as the National Railway System”, details the report that is available on its website.

In its 2022 Transparency Index, the organization states that only South Sudan, Syria and Somalia surpass Venezuela in corruption , which is a key to understand its complex humanitarian emergency, whose most eloquent international indicator is the departure of more than 7.5 million people from the country, which responds largely to serious problems in the health system, water, electricity, education, transportation, housing and other basic services. In this regard, the report is categorical: “the economic and social crisis (…) has deepened the decline of public goods and services (water, electricity, transportation, education, roads, security, among others), and not due to lack of investment but due to the misappropriation of resources as reflected in this report, which shows the large amount of unfinished works that ultimately affect the quality of life and welfare of all Venezuelans”.

The update presented by Transparencia Venezuela coincides with the latest PDVSA corruption scandal . As part of that government-driven corruption scheme, Colombian businessman Álvaro Pulido, known to be an associate of Álex Saab, was arrested in Venezuela on April 11 as reported by CNN . Already on March 28, Attorney General Tarek William Saab had confirmed that Pulido was being investigated in several businesses, raiding some of his properties . Days later, on April 12, Saab revealed that 67 arrest warrants had been “requested, 55 arrests executed, with 12 people still to be apprehended, and 142 raids carried out nationwide”.

According to investigations by the United States, Saab and Pulido allegedly transferred $350 million outside Venezuela to foreign accounts owned or controlled by them[1] . According to a confidential report accessed by the investigative portal, there is “a non-payment to Pdvsa of around $1.5 billion associated to 19 of the companies controlled between 2019 and 2020 by Alex Saab Morán and Álvaro Pulido Vargas”[2] . It is striking that with Pulido’s capture, the Venezuelan government continues defending Saab and using his name as blackmail in the negotiations in Mexico. This reveals that the government is not interested in corruption, and it seems that neither is it interested in the negotiation, but in making an appearance of both situations on the eve of the presidential elections.

Furthermore, these arrests of public officials confirm that this is a purge in the government, due to an internal dispute between Nicolás Maduro and Tarek El Aissami. It is so much so that a great part of those arrested are officials close to the former Minister of Petroleum. No structural measure has yet been taken to stop and reverse not the corruption, but the complex humanitarian emergency. More arrests do not serve to hide the crisis.

It is important that the international community show that the figures that are handled in this network of corruption confirm that corruption and not sanctions are the main cause of the humanitarian emergency, therefore the main responsibility for the situation in the country, including the loss of life falls on those who hold power.