Tareck El Aissami, Venezuela’s Minister of Petroleum, resigned in a surprise move yesterday (March 20), amid a corruption probe into the country’s state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA).
“I have decided to present my resignation as Minister of Petroleum with the purpose of fully supporting, accompanying, and totally backing this process,” he said in a tweet.
President Nicolás Maduro accepted El Aissami’s resignation but did not immediately announce a replacement. Over the past few days, an anti-graft investigation has rounded up at least six high-level officials including a mayor, two judges, and individuals connected to the PDVSA. In a televised address, Maduro said that he is “going to the root” to tackle corruption. The arrests represent the biggest clampdown on corruption at PDVSA since 2018.
The government has conducted graft probes in the past, but arrests are rare in a country that currently ranks 177th out of 180 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Some analysts believe the current probe could be a political move, as Venezuela is scheduled to hold presidential elections next year.
“Justice, Justice, Justice calls for our People! Let us be united today more than ever against corruption. People united, active, denouncing and mobilized in the great epic, spiritual, cultural and moral battle.”
—A tweet from president Nicolás Maduro, published a day after El Aissami’s resignation
Why is Tareck El Aissami an important figure in Venezuela?
Venezuela, a “petrostate,” has the world’s largest petroleum reserves. Oil revenues, the main driver of the country’s economy, will contribute 63% of the country’s $14.7 billion budget this year. As petroleum minister, El Aissami was enthroned at the top of the industry. He has been a longtime ally of Maduro, and a powerful figure in his regime. He took on the role of oil chief in 2020, but over the past two decades, he has also served as vice president, interior minister, and governor of the state of Aragua.
In 2017, El Aissami was placed under US sanctions after being accused of drug trafficking. That didn’t stop the PDVSA, under his supervision, from striking a licensing deal with the US energy giant Chevron last year, just a month after the Biden administration eased some sanctions on Venezuela.
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