Official: US believes ex-Venezuela oil czar took bribes

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — U.S. prosecutors believe that Venezuela’s former oil czar and ambassador to the United Nations received bribes as part of an alleged multibillion-dollar graft scheme in the South America nation’s oil industry, an official familiar with the U.S. investigation said Monday.

Rafael Ramirez, who was one of Venezuela’s most powerful officials until he resigned from the U.N. post in December, was named as a bribe recipient although not charged in an indictment against five other former senior officials that was partially unsealed.

In Monday’s indictment, prosecutors in Houston allege two of the charged individuals told businessmen that proceeds from bribe payments they made in exchange for quick payments and contracts with Venezuela’s state-run oil giant PDVSA would be shared with a senior Venezuelan official, identified in the unsealed portion as “Official B.” …

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

Unfortunately, in recent years, continued progress in these areas has been threatened, not least by the radical populist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and elsewhere. These governments have instituted retrograde agendas that include the propagation of class warfare, state domination of the economy, assaults on private property, anti-Americanism, support for such international pariahs as Iran, Russia, and even transnational criminal organizations.

We are a group of concerned policy experts that fear the results of these destructive agendas for individual freedom, prosperity, and the well-being of the peoples of the region. Our goal is to inform policymakers and international public opinion of the dangers of these radical populist regimes to inter-American security.