Venezuela's oil minister resigns amid corruption probe into state-owned PDVSA
A Venezuelan flag next to some flags of Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA is pictured near the company's headquarters, in Caracas, Venezuela March 20, 2023. Reuters

A former vice president of Venezuela's state oil firm PDVSA was arrested as part of a widening anti-corruption probe looking into wrongdoing at the state company, a government official said on Wednesday.

The investigation that began in October has led to the arrests of more than 60 Venezuelan officials and businessmen, and prompted the resignation of the country's oil minister. It is examining missing oil payments and the use of crypto currency for transactions.

Ysmel Serrano, formerly a PDVSA executive vice president and chief of trade between 2017 and 2018, appeared in court on Tuesday after being arrested by a special anti-corruption police unit designated by President Nicolas Maduro for the case, said Venezuela's information minister Freddy Nanez on Twitter.

Antonio Perez Suarez, who also served as PDVSA vice president, was previously arrested.

The anti-corruption police also arrested businessman Salem Hassoun Atrach and Leoner Azuaje, an official who worked at a state cardboard manufacturer, according to Venezuela's state TV channel. It was not immediately clear what charges the men face.

Over 170 raids and 61 arrests have come out of the corruption case involving PDVSA and other state entities, according to figures by Venezuela's general attorney Tarek Saab.

From 2020 to March 2023, PDVSA accumulated $21.2 billion in commercial accounts receivable, Reuters revealed last month citing internal PDVSA documents. The receivables were tied to dozens of little known middlemen companies that replaced big-name firms barred by U.S. sanctions.

The total receivables include $3.6 billion in accounts classified by PDVSA as potentially unrecoverable as the customers took oil cargoes away from Venezuelan waters without completing due payments.