U.S. refiner Citgo sought to sign a contract with a firm owned by a Venezuelan accused of involvement in the drug trade by the U.S. government, according to a complaint by Citgo's former human resources director filed in a Texas court. Marisol Gomez said she was fired after refusing to approve a contract with the firm owned by Samark Lopez, who the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control in 2017 put on the "kingpin" list for involvement in the drug trade.
Orders to approve the contract came from former Citgo President Nelson Martinez, according to the filing. Martinez was arrested in 2017 as part of a broad anti-corruption probe and died in custody in 2018. "Ms. Gomez repeatedly refused to engage in the criminally illegal actions that Martinez requested her to engage in," says the May 15 filing in the District Court of Harris County, Texas, where Gomez is seeking "monetary relief of more than $1 million" for wrongful termination.
"As a result, on Martinez's orders, on March 14, 2017, Ms. Gomez was terminated solely because she refused to commit the criminally illegal acts that Martinez asked of her," the filing says. Citgo is a subsidiary of Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA.
The filing also says Martinez ordered Gomez to sign a separate contract with a company that was part-owned by his son, and to overhaul Citgo's pension plan in order to boost his own pension payments, both of which Gomez said were linked to kickback schemes. The complaint adds to a long list of criminal allegations involving PDVSA, including numerous indictments by U.S. federal prosecutors for money-laundering and bribery schemes.
The U.S. Treasury has accused Lopez of aiding international narcotics trafficking activities carried out by Tareck El Aissami, who is currently Venezuela's vice president for the economy. President Nicolas Maduro has acknowledged corruption in the oil industry but denies that state officials are involved in the drug trade. El Aissami also denies the U.S. accusations against him.
Citgo, PDVSA and Venezuela's information ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Reuters was unable to reach Lopez for comment.
(With inputs from agencies.)