Since the arrival to power of the Apure State Governor, Eduardo Piñate, several high-profile cases of alleged corruption in his administration have been exposed. Public officials from the Legislative Council of Apure (Clea), Petróleos de Venezuela (Pdvsa Gas), Comptroller’s Office of the state of Apure and the Government of Apure, are detained for these crimes. Apure s a huge frontier state in the southwestern Venezuelan plains
The last case was reported on June 21st, which led to the suspension of the President of the Legislative Council (State’s Assembly) and deputy of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Psuv), Yelitza Padrino Macías, who is allegedly involved in corruption cases related to the sale of “Clap” food aid bags. For this reason, Luis Alvarado, driver and romantic partner of the regional assemblywoman was also arrested.
The sources consulted indicated that Alvarado’s arrest took place in the vicinity of the San Fernando municipal market, during the sale of the aforementioned Clap bags.
Deputy Yelitza Padrino Macías assumed the Presidency of the Legislative Council on January 8th, 2022, in the solemn installation session of the new board. For the time being Padrino is free, but Governor Piñate confirmed on June 23rd on television about the existence of an open investigation against her. In the deputy’s resignation document she mentions that her decision was caused by “health problems.”
This is how on June 26th, 2023, the new Clea (State Assembly) board was installed and César Luis Pérez, only 22 years old, a native of the Achaguas Municipality, was appointed to the presidency.
Another incident of corruption came to light on June 27th. This time it was about the disappearance of money from the safe deposit box of the Government of Apure, whose safekeeping was in the hands of Ricardo Castillo, administrator of that government entity. In the safe there were apparently about $145,000 (U.S.D.), which mysteriously disappeared.
According to testimonies from sources linked to the government, the money stolen from this institution was obtained from the sale of gasoline in foreign currency at the La Araucana “international” service station, located on 1° de Mayo Avenue in San Fernando, capital of Apure State.
“All state companies take the cash there and do not deposit it in accounts like before. Not only the money received from the Clap food aid, but also from TransApure, PDVSA Gas and socialist companies and herds, after selling the cattle in dollars. Everything is in cash and all companies are forced to take the cash to the state government offices, no one can deposit a single bolivar,” said an anonymous source who requested the confidentiality of his identity.
Banknotes in bulk
Two government administrators during Piñate’s administration have been the target of judicial reprisals, because they are in charge of receiving and managing these illegal profits according to their own economic interests.
“They receive the money from 4:00 pm until 12:00 at night. One of the companies that contributes the most money is “Batalla de la Miel” (Battle of the Honey, a state government program), after the government centralized the management of the Clap food aid, previously in the hands of the mayors and municipalities. TransApure deposits daily all cash tickets from the different routes they cover, including the one from San Fernando to Guasdualito,” added a judicial source.
Another government income and source where acts of corruption are committed is when contracting companies, where each must pay 30% of the value of the contract. “It happens in all governments, but these types of operations are not contemplated in the laws,” said an internal source in the government.
Corruption in the state oil company
On January 12th, 2023, the 4th court. Control of the Metropolitan Area of Caracas ordered the arrest of three citizens: Héctor García, manager of ‘Pdvsa Gas Comunal’ of Apure State; José Gregorio Jiménez, known as “Porfi”, who also served as manager of a contractor company for the state oil company’s trucks, and a worker of Jiménez.
It was learned from court sources that these arrests were carried out in the home of those involved by a commission of officials from the Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (Dgcim-Apure) for the crimes of appropriation or distraction of public assets, aggravated smuggling of fuel, and criminal association.
The case was placed at the order of the 55th Prosecutor’s Office with national jurisdiction for the purposes of carrying out the presentation hearing on Saturday, January 14th, 2023, before the 2nd Control Court of Apure State, with the purpose of giving the opportunity for detainees to be heard regarding this case.
Héctor García served as manager of Pdvsa-Gas during the outgoing state government of Ramón Carrizalez and was ratified by Governor Piñate on December 3rd, 2021, despite the disappearance of more than 2,000 cylinders (gas cylinders, bottles) in Alto Apure and to alleged illegal profits through the marketing of gas cylinders to irregular armed groups in the vicinity of Puerto Páez, in thePedro Camejo Municipality.
It was learned that Héctor García and José Gregorio Jiménez would have profited from “over-invoicing” the trucks they brought to the domestic gas filling plant, located in the municipality of Biruaca, coming from the Jose cryogenic complex in Anzoátegui State, as was reported by Radio Fe y Alegría.
Dirty business den
On August 20th and 23rd, 2022, the local governor stated that the then secretary of administration of the regional executive, Laura Rodríguez Sterlling, the treasurer Jorge Luis Salazar Rangel, and the head of billing and payments, Arnoldo Javier Santana Lovera, had been arrested.
Later, in September of that same year, the comptroller general of the Apure State, Jhonny García Romero, was arrested. A commission of officials from the Directorate of Military Counter Intelligence detained him in his own house and in the presence of his wife and children. He was accused of alleged acts of administrative corruption.
Sources linked to the case stated that the former comptroller was detained after he exposed administrative irregularities in the public sector administration to Governor Piñate, such as inconsistency in invoices from companies that had tendered improperly for contracts and payments in an ordinary manner under an audit.
However, official sources stated that this arrest was carried out due to an alleged act of administrative corruption related to the illegal increase in professional fees in his favor and other officials of the comptrolling entity.
Given the recurrence of these cases, after consulting different sources, it can be noted that the arrests of the supposedly involved all have similar characteristics. The accused state that they are innocent, because there is insufficient evidence to confirm that they have committed crimes as established by law.
In one of the cases, there is an alleged complainant, who not only poses as a victim, and never appears before the court or maybe is manipulated by the government itself, in order to cause harm to those now detained, highlighted two sources linked to the case.
“The judges do not grant measures to the detainees, all the judges abstain in these cases because they fear being dismissed. In the courts there is no autonomy, because currently no judge is the head appointee, they are not chosen by examination, but rather they are appointed. The detainees are also charged with association to commit a crime, but that crime does not correspond to this type of cases,” said a source who requested anonymity to protect his safety.
Given this panorama, while the accused plead innocent, the current administration of Eduardo Piñate is seen as pristine and honest, because it punishes the crimes of corruption reported under his government administration that, at the beginning, seemed to not have enough economic resources so that rampant acts of corruption could be committed. Apparently this has changed in recent months.