efe-epaCaracas

Venezuela's recently-appointed Attorney General told EFE news agency in an interview released Friday that corruption affected the highest levels of the powerful state energy company Petroleum of Venezuela (PDVSA).

Tarek William Saab was appointed to office in an act enforced by the Constituent National Assembly (ANC) _ a government body that, after its creation in 2017, controversially overruled all other national authorities to oust government critic, former Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz.

Since taking over the role at the head of Venezuelan state justice, Saab said the most important discoveries he has made "have been cases of corruption."

The majority of those cases had been archived by his predecessor, he added, and had allegedly involved irregular contracts and surcharges that seriously defrauded the state.

He said the fraudulent activities were particularly abundant in companies operating in the oil-rich region of Orinoco in southern Venezuela, which is considered to be one of the largest reserves of crude oil in the world.

Venezuela's state prosecutors have already unveiled a case against Petrozamora _ a company affiliated to PDVSA _ which has led to the arrest of eight people and an arrest warrant for a ninth.

"Practically all directors at PDVSA-Occidente have been detained," Saab said.

He said he had also uncovered widespread corruption in the nation's currency exchange rates management system, the National Center for Foreign Commerce (CENCOEX), although he gave no indication of whether government or company officials had received irregular pay-offs.

The AG suggested that Ortega could have covered up those allegedly involved in that scheme.

Saab has also re-opened an investigation into the case against Odebrecht, a Brazilian conglomerate that in 2015 was linked to a corruption scandal that shook Brazil after the company's CEO was convicted of paying bribes to executives at the oil-giant Petrobas for preferential treatment with regards to contracting and influence.

The state-controlled Petrobras case, dubbed Operation Car Wash, found hundreds of people allegedly involved in a massive money-laundering investigation, including top-level politicians.

The Odebrecht case in Venezuela was kick-started by Ortega and concluded with charges against the wife and mother-in-law of the then minister of Public Development.

Since taking over from Ortega, Saab has dismissed many of the cases and accusations that remained opened on his arrival to office.

Saab insisted that, with Ortega at the helm, the Public Ministry became a private company dedicated to extortion.

A former ally of the government, Ortega was ousted on Aug. 5, 2017 on the first day of the ANC's official implementation, a move that created a global media stir.

When asked why prosecutors had not investigated the alleged high-level corruption cases during Ortega's tenure as a Maduro ally, Saab told EFE: "I don't talk about the past, I can't."

by Indira Guerrero