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Venezuelan Prosecutors Arrest Former Vice President in ‘Crypto Plot’ Probe

Tim Alper
Last updated: | 2 min read
Venezuelan Prosecutors Arrest Former Vice President and ‘Crypto Plot Ringleader’ El Aissami

Venezuelan prosecutors say they have arrested former Vice President Tareck El Aissami, the alleged “ringleader” of a “crypto plot” to embezzle money from state oil sales.

El Aissami had been on the run from Venezuelan law enforcers for around a year after allegedly converting cash “into cryptocurrencies.”

Prosecutors think El Aissami and other senior government officials “moved coins” onto the Kraken crypto exchange after converting them elsewhere.

Venezuelan Prosecutors Catch ‘PDVSA-Crypto Ringleader’


The high-profile case has become known as the “PDVSA-crypto corruption incident” in Venezuela.

It saw President Nicolás Maduro’s government raid dozens of government agencies and ministries last year.

Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) is the Venezuelan state-owned oil producer. The firm exports Venezuelan oil, and has previously used crypto as a payment tool to help evade Washington-led sanctions.

This reportedly led to the state accumulating a large “stash” of Bitcoin and Ethereum coins that it was allegedly unsure what to do with.

The biggest crypto casualty in the crackdown was Sunacrip (National Superintendence of Cryptoassets), the state’s crypto agency and the operator of the government-run oil-backed Petro coin.

Joselit Ramírez, the former President of Sunacrip, was arrested last year, along with senior officials including the lawmaker Hugbel Roa.

Attorney-General Tarek William Saab stated that El Aissami, who is also the former Minister of Oil, was arrested along with the businessman Samark López.

The nation’s former Minister of Economy, Simón Zerpa, was also arrested. Maduro’s government thinks that the ministers and others stole “billions of dollars.”

How Much Money and Crypto Did Ex-Ministers Allegedly Steal?


Previous government statements indicate Caracas thinks it lost at least $3 billion in oil revenues in deals going back to 2018 – and possibly beyond.

Saab stated that El Aissami, López, and Zerpa, “along with 50 other defendants,” operated a “corruption network.”

Police have also arrested several military officers whose units had been ordered to mine cryptoassets for the state.

They have also arrested over a dozen PDVSA employees. Police have also charged several individuals who reportedly used state oil funds to pay for cosmetic surgery.

Saab said that El Aissami and his “trusted men, Ramírez and Roa,” directly sold crude oil to international buyers.

He said they “then hid the proceeds from sales [in crypto wallets] without leaving a trace.”

Per Criptonoticias, Saab added:

“They used [shell] companies and overseas cryptocurrency payments to do as they pleased with the funds.  They did not let the Central Bank access the funds.”

Saab further claimed that El Aissami and others “speculated” with the funds. He said they used unnamed intermediaries to convert cash to crypto.

These coins were then “transferred to the Kraken exchange,” the Attorney-General said. This helped make the funds “undetectable for supervisory bodies.”

Venezuela’s Attorney-General Tarek William Saab.
Venezuela’s Attorney-General Tarek William Saab. (Source: Katerin Crespo [CC BY-SA 4.0])

The Attorney-General’s statement was significant, as the government has never before named any crypto firm in connection with the PDVSA-crypto corruption incident.

Venezuelan prosecutors stated that they intend to charge El Aissami, López, and Zerpa with treason and the misappropriation of public funds.

Saab concluded that El Aissami plotted to “destroy the national economy,” and “ruin” the fiat bolívar. He said:

“The plotters wanted to put pressure on other currencies and scupper the government’s economic policies.”

Caracas officially pulled the plug on the Petro (PTR) on January 15 this year. The government has also ordered dozens of crypto mining firms and operations to stop, while Caracas has all but shelved its so-called “cryptoeconomic model” of financial growth.