On Sunday, February 8, opposition Deputy Walter Márquez accused Rear Admiral Rui Miguel de Sousa, the man in charge of combating smuggling across the Venezuela-Colombia border, of being the country’s largest illegal oil trafficker.
Márquez claims the high-ranking Venezuelan military official has diverted over 3 million liters of fuel across the Colombia border, where it can be sold for up to 70-times the price in Venezuela.
“He was appointed there to limit the smuggling, and he was involved in smuggling,” said Márquez. According to the deputy, De Sousa’s trafficking operations began before he was appointed to the position.
The Nicolás Maduro administration has stated it intends to battle smuggling in the region and has enacted a set of policies aimed at reducing such activity along the border with Colombina, including closing its border after dark. Márquez, however, alleges the government has ignored the involvement of government officials in the illegal trade.
“According to analysis that have been conducted, the commander got in contact with irregular groups and sold them large amounts of fuel. Even though it was reported to intelligence officials … he was promoted from captain to admiral,” said the deputy.
In January, government authorities detained Gladys Nubia Parada, an official with the Petroleum and Mining Ministry, as well as her brother José Luis Parada, an executive director at the Venezuelan state-run oil company PDVSA, based on irregularities in the distribution of fuel.
“There is no doubt that the real smuggling is being carried out by high-ranking officials in government,” said Leonardo Fernández, an opposition state deputy from Marcaibo.
“For years we have been denouncing that smuggling is being run by those who control the border, and those responsible for the distribution of fuel in the states of Zulia and Tachira. It is an open secret that there is a small group that is getting rich illegally, sending large amounts of gasoline to our neighboring country,” he said.