Venezuelan UN Ambassador & Ex-Oil Czar Steps Down amid Corruption Speculation

Former Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez revealed Tuesday that he had resigned from his envoy position at the UN at the request of the Nicolas Maduro government. 

By Rachael Boothroyd Rojas
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Former Venezuelan UN Ambassador Rafael Ramirez
Former Venezuelan envoy to the UN, Rafael Ramirez, revealed he had resigned Tuesday after almost a week of speculation. (AFP)

Bogota, December 6, 2017 ( – Venezuela’s envoy to the United Nations and former oil czar, Rafael Ramirez, revealed Tuesday that he had resigned from his role at the global organization at the request of the Venezuelan president. 

In a Twitter post announcing that he would step down, Ramirez claimed he had been effectively stripped of his position by Venezuelan head of state Nicolas Maduro on account of his political opinions. The UN envoy had published a series of articles critiquing the national government’s handling of the economic crisis in recent weeks.

“I wouldn’t like to think that now the attacks and contempt will intensify, for having expressed my opinions and taking a position of warning in defense of the revolution, and the country,” he said.

“[This] is the new way of dong politics, with a small p, imposed by a communion of interests and tawdry intentions, which coincide with the opinions of the rightwing, and which were unimaginable during the time of revolution under Hugo Chavez” he added, in a thinly veiled attack on the Maduro administration. 

Elsewhere in the public four-page resignation letter, Ramirez suggests that he had made private complaints to the national government over the need to carry out a “profound revision” of policy and to “retake the successful path outlined by Commander Chavez”. 

In the post, Ramirez also defends his two-year stint at the United Nations and credits himself with having overseen a period of economic development and stability during his twelve years as state oil company chief and oil minister. He finishes the letter by pledging loyalty to the revolution.

The top diplomat’s resignation has been expected for the past week, and comes six days after Reuters initially reported that the UN envoy had been dismissed by the Venezuelan government — though the news was met with silence from Venezuelan officials. The diplomat and former Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada has been named as Venezuela’s new envoy to the UN.

Despite Ramirez’s claims he was ousted over his critical positions, speculation has arisen over whether the former oil minister’s fall from grace could actually be related to an ongoing anti-corruption drive in the national oil sector. 

Just last Thursday, the news broke that the Attorney General’s office had arrested Euologio Del Pino and Nelson Martinez on a string of corruption and graft charges. Both men are former oil ministers and ex-presidents of state oil company PDVSA and are widely considered to be the proteges of Ramirez.

The Attorney General’s office has arrested more than fifty directors, upper and mid-level managers in PDVSA and its main US subsidiary CITGO since it began the anti-corruption investigations in August. 

Billions of dollars are alleged to have been lost to corruption within PDVSA over the past twelve years, mostly under Ramirez’s watch. 

Last Friday, the oil czar's cousin Diego Salazar Carreño was arrested in connection to the embezzlement of EUR€1.348 billion in state funds between 2011-2012 through a criminal network operating within PDVSA. 

Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab said that forty individuals were involved in the racket, including former PDVSA and oil ministry workers, as well as businesses that had helped to launder the stolen funds and transfer them out of the country via Andorra Bank. The attorney general said that the scheme was responsible for the embezzlement of EUR€4.2 billion in state oil dollars since 2006, and that another businessman, José Enrique Luongo, had also been arrested this week in connection to the corruption ring. Both Carreño and Luongo are accused of having laundered almost EUR€197 million through their respective businesses between 2011 and 2012. 

Nonetheless, much of the stolen money still remains unaccounted for, and dozens of arrest warrants and Interpol alerts are currently in effect for individuals wanted in relation to the oil sector corruption. The warrants include an extradition order for former Energy Vice-Minister Nervis Villalobos, currently in Spain, for his alleged participation in the Andorra scheme and other acts of corruption. A raft of other criminal activities within PDVSA, such as lobbying, bribery, and fraudulent contracting, have also been unearthed in recent weeks, confirmed Saab.

According to the chief prosecutor, the crimes were able to go undetected for so long thanks to the complicity of former Attorney General Luisa Ortega. In a stinging indictment of Ortega, who fled the country in August, Saab said the ex-prosecutor had closed investigations into Andorra bank, in spite of evidence presented by several district attorneys.

Speaking on national television Tuesday, Maduro said he felt betrayed by the news and lamented that “comrades had used their positions to rob the people”.

“I call on everyone in this struggle to union, to civil-military unity, in this struggle against corruption that we are waging,” said the president.