Correspondent in Caracas
Italy has approved the extradition to Venezuela of a staunch opponent of the Nicolás Maduro regime, Rafael Ramirez, former Minister of Energy between 2002 and 2014, former President of the state company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and former Minister of Foreign Affairs. On December 4, 2017, Ramírez resigned from his position as ambassador of Venezuela to the United Nations, interrupting his relationship with Maduro, in open criticism of his economic, social and human rights violation policies. Since then, Ramírez has harshly criticized Maduro’s management, whom he accuses of having betrayed the legacy of the late President Hugo Chávez.
Days after his resignation, the Venezuelan attorney general opened an investigation against Ramírez for alleged crimes of corruption. The Venezuelan courts accuse Ramírez, among other alleged crimes, ‘willful embezzlement’ (theft of public funds) and criminal association, during his tenure as legal representative of Petróleos de Venezuela, Sociedad Anónima (PDVSA).
Venezuela asked Italy for his extradition in November 2020. According to Rafael Ramírez’s lawyers, the Maduro regime relied on “false accusations of misappropriation.”
Relations between Italy and Venezuela are regulated by a extradition treaty approved in 1931. In the document of the prosecutor of the Rome court of appeal it is specified that “there are no elements to believe that the criminal process pending before the Venezuelan judicial authority is the result of a persecutory activity determined for political reasons.” “There are also no elements – adds the Rome prosecutor’s office – to believe that the procedure to which he would be subjected in his country of origin will not respect the fundamental rights of the accused.”
Ramírez’s lawyers do not understand it that way, they fear now for their freedom. Italy initially did not proceed with the extradition. But, according to the lawyers of the Venezuelan opposition, “in recent weeks, internal and international political pressures are putting at risk the freedom and life of someone who is considered by most international political observers as the most authoritative and important opponent ‘Chavista “to the Maduro dictatorship,” highlights the note from Ramírez’s lawyers.