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Venezuela names official indicted by US as oil minister

Maduro named Tareck El Aissami - a powerful ally sanctioned by the US as a drug kingpin - minister for oil, in an effort to revamp his country's beleaguered industry amid massive fuel shortages.

El Aissami

Caracas (AFP) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Monday named a top official targeted by US sanctions as the country's new oil minister.

Maduro tasked Tareck El Aissami -- a vice-president for the economy who has been indicted in the United States on drugs trafficking charges -- with "restructuring and reorganization" of the country's crippled oil industry.

Maduro also named Asdrubal Chavez, cousin of the late president Hugo Chavez, as interim president of the state oil firm PDVSA.

El Aissami replaces Manuel Quevedo, a general given the twin responsibilities of oil minister and PDVSA chief in 2017.

El Aissami was named on the list of the US most wanted fugitives in August last year for "international narcotics trafficking".

The US designated him in February 2017 as having played "a significant role in international narcotics trafficking."

"In his previous positions, he oversaw or partially owned narcotics shipments of more than 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) from Venezuela on multiple occasions, including those with the final destinations of Mexico and the United States," the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) said on its website.

El Aissami declared his innocence and denounced the move as "a dirty trick."

The price of Venezuelan oil fell to below $10 a barrel last Friday -- its lowest level in more than two decades.

Venezuela is almost entirely dependent on its oil revenues, which account for around 96 percent of its income.

But oil prices have been sliding since 2014, exacerbating the country's ongoing economic crisis that has pushed almost five million Venezuelans to leave the country, according to UN figures.

Maduro's government blames US sanctions, including sanctions on PDVSA, for the crisis.

Although the South American country has the world's largest oil reserves, the country's oil sector suffers from corruption and lack of investment in upgrades and maintenance, according to analysts and the Venezuelan opposition.

(AFP)

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