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Venezuelan court orders trial for ex-oil minister three years after arrest

CARACAS, Feb 9 (Reuters) - A Venezuelan court ordered the trial of former Oil Minister Eulogio del Pino and four other officials to begin, more than three years after they were arrested on corruption allegations, the country’s supreme court said on Tuesday.

Del Pino, who also served as president of state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, was arrested in late 2017 as part of a purge of the OPEC nation’s energy industry seen as a power play by President Nicolas Maduro. Del Pino said at the time he was a “victim” of an “unjustified attack.”

The five officials have been imprisoned since their arrests.

In a statement, the supreme court said a Caracas court would try del Pino and the four other officials for alleged crimes including “obstruction of free commerce, damages by omission to the oil industry, conspiracy” and other crimes.

Maduro has blamed former PDVSA officials’ corruption, as well as U.S. sanctions, for a drop in Venezuela’s crude production to less than 500,000 barrels per day (bpd), down from more than 2 million bpd when he took office in 2013. That collapse has contributed to an economic and humanitarian crisis.

Maduro’s critics say years of underinvestment and mismanagement of the industry are the true causes of the collapse in output.

Nelson Martinez, another former oil minister and PDVSA president who was arrested in late 2017, died in state custody in late 2018. (Reporting by Deisy Buitrago in Caracas Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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