Court Orders Arrests of Former Officials in Fraud Case
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Authorities Wednesday ordered the arrests of four ex-ministers, a former chief of the central bank and five other officials in connection with a $7 billion fraud case.
It was a sensational development in the scandal, which centers on the disbanded Recadi government agency. The case is part too of a wave of corruption charges against the administration of former President Jaime Lusinchi, who completed his five-year term in February.
The country’s Upper Court on Wednesday ordered the arrests of former Cabinet ministers Hector Hurtado, who oversaw development and finance; Hector Meneses, from the development department; Manuel Azpurua of finance; and Modesto Freites of planning.
A warrant was also issued for Mauricio Garcia Araujo, former president of the Venezuelan Central Bank.
The court also ordered the arrests of former Recadi director Egdalia Bastardo, former Finance Vice Minister Jorge Garcia, and three other officials.
The court had been expected to rule after state and municipal elections scheduled for Sunday.
″The warrants were issued this afternoon and have already been handed to the police, who will be in charge of executing them,″ said Judge Silvestre Ortiz Bucaram.
He gave no details of what the suspects were being charged with.
Lusinchi’s successor, Carlos Andres Perez, is an old personal and political rival.
Meneses is reported to be in the United States seeking medical treatment for serious injuries he suffered in April, when he shot himself in the temple shortly after the Recadi investigation began.
In a letter found at his side, addressed to his wife, Meneses accused Hurtado and Azpurua of trying to make him the scapegoat.
Recadi was the government agency charged with distributing dollars for imports at prices much lower than those of the general market. It was set up in 1983 to soften the impact of the devaluation of the national currency, the bolivar.
Perez eliminated Recadi and the preferential dollar system shortly after his inauguration.
Dozens of companies are now under investigation, charged with fraudulently obtaining cheap Recadi dollars through overbilling or non-existent imports. According to official figures, close to $7 billion ended up in private and company accounts in the United States and Europe.
A few months ago, a lower court investigating the case ordered the arrest of Argentine Finance Minister Nestor Rapanelli.
From 1984-85, Rapanelli headed Gramoven, a Venezuelan flour mill. He was charged with wheat contraband and exchange fraud.
In October, Lusinchi himself narrowly avoided a formal congressional investigation when two consecutive votes ended in a tie with the entire opposition voting against the governing Democratic Action party.
In another case, Jose Angel Ciliberto, Lusinchi’s last interior minister, is being investigated by the prosecutor general for possible misuse of public funds.