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U.S. investigating Venezuelan state-owned oil company

By Shawn Price
U.S. investigating Venezuelan state-owned oil company
Prosecutors in the United States have launched an investigation into whether top officials for Venezuela's state-owned oil company PdVSA embezzled billions of dollars and used the company's foreign accounts to launder drug money. Photo by Christian Lagerek

WASHINGTON, Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Prosecutors in the United States have launched an investigation into whether top officials for Venezuela's state-owned oil company embezzled billions of dollars and used the company's foreign accounts to launder drug money, sources said.

Criminal probes by federal law enforcement are seeking to find out if PdVSA officials used various schemes and kickbacks to take billions from the country and perhaps even used the company and its foreign bank accounts to launder drug money and operate black-market currency schemes.

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Prosecutors from New York, Washington, Missouri and Texas, along with agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and other agencies met with witnesses and shared evidence in hopes of building various probes.

One of the targets in the probes might be Rafael Ramirez, who built a massive fortune while head of PdVSA during former President Hugo Chavez's time in office. He is now the country's ambassador to the United Nations.

No charges have been announced and possibly none might be filed.

U.S. officials are conducting the probes as Venezuela's economy is in collapse, with 160 percent inflation, a contraction of 10 percent in 2015, worthless currency and no ability to pay for imported foods and medicine.

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