Earlier today, attorney general Tarek William Saab announced the uncovering of an embezzlement operation that saw at least $200 million dollars disappear illegally into private pockets between 2010-2016. The operation involved ten companies that were awarded contracts related to oil development in the Orinoco Belt region of the country. According to Saab, the ten companies overcharged as much as 230% for the contracts.
While making the announcement, Saab said:
We suspect that the total [sum of money embezzled] could increase. There could be other companies connected to this matter.
Saab also named the companies suspected of having been involved in the embezzlement. The ten suspect companies are:
- Nalco Venezuela
- Sumiservices 2021
- Cooperative Servicio de Oriente
- Servicio Construcciones y Mantenimiento Romara
- Constructora Urbano Fermin Cuferca
- SDV Energia y Infrastructura
- Derwick Associates
The allegations made against the companies have not been proven.
The tenth company listed, Derick Associates, is also under investigation in the United States for being suspected of conducting money laundering operations for PDVSA.
After making the announcement, Saab blamed former attorney general and regime critic Luisa Ortega Diaz for the crime while suggesting that she was aware that the embezzlement was taking place but did nothing to stop it. Saab said:
You [Luisa Ortega Diaz] are the principal party responsible for the embezzlement in the Orinoco Belt. You allowed cases that harmed the state patrimony by failing to act.
Ortega Diaz, who is currently on the run from the Maduro regime, was attorney general from 2007 until early August of this year.
Colombia’s Santos Talks Venezuela
In an interview published in BBC Mundo earlier today, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos spoke on a variety of Venezuela-related topics, and said that the Maduro regime had “put an end to democracy” in the country.
Santos told BBC Mundo that the Colombian government is looking for a “transition” towards democracy in Venezuela, since Maduro had plunged the country into authoritarianism. Santos said:
…. what we’ve been looking for lately is a transition, because it is a fact that they [the Maduro regime] put an end to democracy in Venezuela. That is a bad thing for Venezuela and for the region. And we should all do whatever possible so that democracy can be restored. Having a dictatorship in the middle of Latin America is not convenient for anyone…
Santos also said that as Venezuela’s closest neighbour, it was the country that stood “that loses or gains the most” based on what happens there, and that the crisis in the country was so difficult that there was no concrete solution in sight. When pressed if he himself had a proposal, Santos said:
Encouraging the possibility of a negotiated and peaceful exit [for the regime] is, I think, something that the entire world should strive for and I think that the Pope should strive for that. That’s what we are striving for and we will continue to mount pressure [to make that happen].
By the government and the opposition. [They have reached out to me] lots of times, and we’ve made a lot of gestures to make this happen.
Santos was also asked if he had spoken to Luisa Ortega Diaz, who is now inside Colombia as a fugitive from the Maduro regime. While he would not reveal the details of their conversations, Santos said:
What I’ve told her is, “You can stay here if you want”. We have different options here from a legal perspective, and we know that she is being persecuted, and we’ve been a country that has traditionally offered asylum to political refugees. If she asks for asylum–she has not done this year–we could give it to her.
Regime Downplays OHCHR Report, Claims it is “Unfounded”
The Maduro regime has responded to a report released yesterday by the United Nations Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights that outlined the gross human rights violations committed by security forces during the summer protests.
The reaction came from the Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Jorge Valero, who called the report “unfounded” and suggested that it had been “manipulated”, although he did not specify how. Valero characterized the report by saying:
It is a pathetic demonstration that this office [the OHCHR] and the high commissioner himself, Zeid Ra’Ad Al Hussein, have chosen to take the path of insulting the participative democracy that exists in Venezuela.
The report in fact does not contain any criticism of the Venezuelan democratic model, and is instead focused exclusively on providing evidence that the Maduro regime and its security forces committed serious and systematic human rights violations in the suppression of the summer protests.
For example, Section 3 of the report is titled “Torture and ill-treatment of persons detained in the context of the protests”, and outlines how security forces tortured detainees–even children–using the following methods:
… severe beatings, electric shocks, stress positions, suffocation and threats of sexual violence and death….
One of the cases documented in the report outlines the experiences of protests who were tortured with chemicals while in detention after they were arrested for protesting (italics in original):
OHCHR also documented cases where security forces used tear gas grenades and other chemicals in confined spaces or directly applied them to the person’s airways, to stimulate suffocation of the detainees. “They threw chlorine and salt in my mouth, they beat me with sticks and they fired tear gas grenades close to my face. I lost consciousness.” A young man explained to OHCHR “The guards would regularly throw tear gas grenades inside the
cell and blocked the doors’ bars with a mattress to prevent the gas from dispersing.” He also reported that guards would throw cebollitas in the cell – papers containing the chemical powder used to make tear gas grenades to which they set fire. “You feel like you are burning alive,” he said. Two young women recounted how guards put a hood on their head with tear
gas powder for two hours.
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