Venezuela arrests ex-oil refining boss for alleged graft

Former PDVSA executive Jesús Luongo has been arrested for corruption. (Reuters pic)

PUNTO FIJO: Venezuela has arrested the former refining boss of state oil company PDVSA for alleged corruption, two sources told Reuters on Monday, extending a crackdown on the OPEC nation’s ailing oil sector.

Veteran oil executive Jesús Luongo joins a list of dozens of oil managers who have been arrested over the last few months for alleged graft in crisis-wrought Venezuela. Former oil minister Eulogio Del Pino and former PDVSA President Nelson Martínez are the most high-profile prisoners of the sweep that began late last year.

Authorities had issued an arrest warrant for Luongo and four other oil executives, the two sources with knowledge of the detention said. Luongo turned himself on Monday in the northwestern Paraguana peninsula, home to Venezuela’s biggest refining complex, which he once led, one of the sources said. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, the other source added.

PDVSA and the Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Luongo. Luongo did not immediately respond to a request for comment on WhatsApp. The messaging system said he had not logged on since Sunday.

Socialist President Nicolás Maduro has promised a vast anti-corruption purge to cleanse the oil industry of “mafias.” At least 70 executives have been detained so far, panicking PDVSA workers, depriving Venezuela’s oil industry of much of its top brass and stalling decision-making in the company overseeing the world’s biggest crude reserves, insiders have said.

The opposition dismisses the probe as a power struggle within the government, noting that the industry has been under tight control of the Socialist Party since early in the late President Hugo Chávez’s 14-year rule.

State prosecutor Tarek Saab, a former ruling party governor, has blasted those accusations as an opposition effort to discredit what he calls a “crusade” against graft. His office has called a press conference on Tuesday to make announcements about “the fight against corruption.”