Venezuela to seek extradition of former minister in corruption case

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CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela will seek the extradition of a former top energy official and launched fresh legal action against a former oil minister, who it is also trying to extradite from Europe, the state attorney-general’s office said.

Venezuela has been trying to extradite from Italy its once powerful oil minister and head of state oil firm Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), Rafael Ramirez, and will now also request the extradition of former deputy energy minister Nervis Villalobos from Spain.

The two former officials are being sought in connection with an investigation that centers on alleged deals in which PDVSA paid for money purportedly borrowed from a firm named Atlantic in 2012, the attorney-general’s office said. But the borrowed funds never arrived in the company’s coffers, causing it to incur $5 billion in damages, according to the office.

PDVSA also paid back in dollars the purported amount borrowed in bolivars, when there were rules against trading in foreign currency, the office said.

Ramirez had told Reuters in August that the accusations were “completely false” and that all financial transactions during his tenure had been audited. Villalobos could not immediately be reached for comment.

Venezuela had previously tried to extradite Ramirez on another corruption case, but Italy refused early this year.

The oil firm has been facing a string of investigations, which have resulted in the 2017 arrest of a relative of Ramirez after an accusation by the United States of connection with money-laundering, and more recently, the arrest of former PDVSA finance vice president Victor Aular.

The new extradition request will go through Venezuelan courts before reaching its foreign ministry, which will then send the request to Spain. It will also renew its request to Italy, based on the new charges.

Reporting by Vivian Sequera, editing by Deepa Babington

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