Authorities arrested Valencia mayor and United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) member Edgardo Parra on Saturday for a range of corruption crimes. His arrest comes as the national government continues its campaign of “zero tolerance” of corruption.
Parra is being held in the Sebin (Bolivarian National Intelligence Service) headquarters in Valencia, the capital of Carabobo state. A Carabobo court also ordered his bank accounts to be frozen and various assets to be secured.
Parra has been charged with extortion, criminal association and corruption – crimes which come under the Law against Corruption and the Law against Organised Crime and Financing of Terrorism.
Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez told press that he had received information from mayoralty workers and companies seeking authorisations that there existed a “parallel office” for processing municipal contracts and authorisations. The Sebin searched the offices on Monday.
Those seeking contracts or authorisations allegedly had to pay bribes through the parallel office. The mayor’s son, who shares the same name, apparently ran this office, and Victoria Lopez, also arrested, was working there. Lopez is known for having participated in the Miss Venezuela competition in 2000. A third person, Bell Romero was also arrested in relation to the crimes.
Parra allegedly also managed 14 cooperatives, through which he charged for services and also assigned them resources. During the investigation authorities found fourteen properties, including farms, apartments, housing, a yacht, jets, and cars that had been obtained through those cooperatives working with the parallel office. Courts ordered that the property be secured.
Parra won the 2008 mayoral elections in Valencia by a small margin (38.15% of the vote). It is likely he only won due to a divided opposition, which ran four candidates in total; Dahyana Padron obtaining 11.37% of the vote and Michele Cocchiola 36.43%. A third opposition candidate at the time, Abdala Makled, was arrested for drug trafficking.
In mayoral elections coming up in December, the candidate for the PSUV is Miguel Flores, while Cocchiola is running for the opposition MUD coalition. Left wing PSUV members, including known revolutionary ex-mayor Argenis Loreto, protested Flores’ candidature.
Valencia, two hours by bus from Caracas, is the third largest city in Venezuela, and is also known as Venezuela’s industrial capital. It is home to various transnational companies and car manufacturers and is one of the most modern and expensive cities in Venezuela.
The arrest of the PSUV mayor comes as President Nicolas Maduro has taken a further step in the national government’s campaign against corruption, requesting an enabling law in the national assembly last week. Maduro stated that, “The era of institutional corruption should come to an end in Venezuela” and declared that the government will focus its efforts on getting rid of economic and financial mafia, “no matter their political colour” (political affiliation).
Earlier this month 326 people finished their training to become “socialist inspectors” as part of the government’s anti-corruption plan. They form part of a total of 800 such inspectors who have been trained to inspect food, health, communal, land, infrastructure, and education projects for corruption and assess their advancement. The government is aiming for a total of 4,000 such inspectors.
Recently, three police were also arrested in Merida state for allegedly requesting money from someone in order to return his motorcycle to him after they took it during a raid. A lieutenant colonel in the National Guard was also found guilty of corruption and sentenced to 6 years and 3 months in prison for accepting a bribe. He was detained in March last year.
Further, last month two employees of the state owned Bicentenary Bank were detained for allegedly being implicated in acts of corruption; specifically stealing resources that were assigned to communal councils.