Venezuela arrests officials for giving US oil data

Caracas (AFP) –


Venezuela said Monday it had arrested two officials from state oil company PDVSA for providing the US with "strategic and sensitive" details of its sanctions-hit oil operations.

Alfredo Chirinos, the company's special operations chief, and Aryenis Torrealba, PDVSA's general manager of crude operations, were arrested on Friday, the commission set up to restructure the company said in a statement.

"They are responsible for handing over strategic, sensitive and confidential information to the United States government," the statement said.

It said the pair had "provided data" on the company's operations and logistics as well as details of Venezuela's oil trade activity.

Under pressure from increased US sanctions which last month targeted a subsidiary of Russian oil giant Rosneft -- a key conduit for Venezuelan oil -- President Nicolas Maduro last month ordered a commission be set up to revamp the oil company.

Four new vice-presidents were appointed to the company on Saturday, tasked with boosting exploration, refining, trade and finance.

Washington has already imposed multiple sanctions aimed at toppling Maduro's regime, particularly by cutting his government's oil revenue.

Washington said it would step up pressure on Venezuela's oil trade as part of its plan to overthrow Maduro's socialist government.

US officials said Rosneft handles around 70 percent of Venezuela's oil and that the country's top importer has been India, followed by China.

Delhi has promised to cut down purchases because of its strong ties with the United States.

Venezuela produced 882,000 barrels a day in January, according to OPEC -- 25,000 bpd less than in December.

However, secondary sources consulted by the 13-member oil-producers' cartel indicate that the January production figures could have been as low as 733,000 bpd.