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Italy has not yet approved extradition for Venezuela’s ex-oil minister-lawyer

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Reporting by Marco Carta; writing by Angelo Amante; Editing by Mark Heinrich

ROME, July 15 (Reuters) – Italy has not yet approved a Venezuelan request for the extradition of former oil minister Rafael Ramirez, his lawyer said on Thursday, denying a Venezuelan state TV report that the move had been cleared by an appeals court.

Authorities in the South American country sought an Interpol red notice – a request to law enforcement worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a person – for Ramirez in 2018 and requested his extradition from Italy last year in connection with embezzlement charges.

Ramirez, 57, has in the past denied corruption allegations, arguing that President Nicolas Maduro’s administration was seeking to smear him for speaking out against the government.

Ramirez’s Italian lawyer Roberto De Vita told Reuters, “The opinion of the prosecutor was in favour (of the request), but the hearing has yet to be scheduled.”

The Rome’s prosecutor office was not immediately available for comment. Italy’s justice and foreign ministries did not respond to a request for comment.

Ramirez plans a news conference in Rome on Friday at 11:30 a.m. (0930 GMT), a statement from his lawyer said.

Ramirez served for a decade as oil minister and president of state oil company PDVSA [RIC:RIC:PDVSA.UL], which controls some of the largest crude reserves in the world.

Venezuela’s supreme court said on Facebook last year that Ramirez faced criminal charges including embezzlement and bid-rigging for oil contracts.

He was ousted from his post as Venezuela’s U.N. envoy in 2017 after publicly criticizing Maduro and the status of the OPEC nation’s oil industry. Ramirez had been a close confidant and remains an admirer of the late former president Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s predecessor and mentor.