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General Rangel Gómez Under the Shadow of his Son-In-Law's Business in Mexico

The former chavista governor of the State of Bolívar from 2004 to 2017 changed overnight from excessive media exhibitionism to low profile. His departure to Mexico completed the circle of the retirement plan he had been preparing while on civil service. He was now staying in the same country where the businesses of his daughter's husband flourished, which he had significantly fostered from his positions in Guayana. Now, with financial sanctions imposed on him by Canada and the United States, Francisco José Rangel Gómez prefers to stay under the radar.

Nobody answers the door of house No. 301 at Manuel Ávila Camacho 88 boulevard, in the luxurious Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood, in Mexico City. The problem is not just the door. Nobody answers the phone either.

“I have been here for 25 years and there has never been any company, let alone metal companies,” says Juan Martín Sánchez Fregoso, a neighbor. But there are documents that confirm that this is the headquarters of a company that a couple of years ago acted as a shipping agent and trader of metals, owned by Carlos Rodrigo González Piazza, husband of María Eugenia Rangel Escobar, daughter of the former governor of the State of Bolívar?the rich mining, industrial and hydropower province of southern Venezuela?retired General of the Army Division, Francisco Rangel Gómez, currently sanctioned by USA and Canada.

The elephant is literally white. The house is painted in white color, streaked by time and neglect. Not far from there, in Sierra Gorda 150, another white house that belongs to Enrique Peña Nieto and Angélica La Gaviota Rivera gave rise to a national scandal that undermined the most recent and perhaps last Government of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party).

Now, still in the time of the Fourth Transformation of López Obrador, Lomas de Chapultepec is the refuge of power and great fortunes in the Mexican capital. But this white house shows signs of deterioration. Pieces of cloth hang on the windows as curtains. Is it a company? A metallurgical company? Neighbors insist on knowing anything about it.

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According to documents, Quimera Metals, a variable capital corporation, is based in this abandoned structure. On June 9, 2005, the Directorate General of Legal Affairs of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the United Mexican States, through the Assistant Office of Corporations, authorized its incorporation. The procedure is recorded on folio 28231J35, under file number 200509014428.

In October 2015, the General Coordination of Ports of the Mexican State authorized a 3-company consortium to give its capacity as shipping operator in the port of Veracruz - the main one in the country - on commission to Mexus Shipping Sociedad Anónima. The companies authorized were Glencore de México, Quimera Metals and Mexmarines Services. The purpose of the transaction was for Mexus Shipping to pay commissions to these three companies to act as their shipping agent and represent them in their businesses by sea.

The face of González Piazza is as opaque and mysterious as the facade of the headquarters of Quimera Metals. His close circle has been more renown than him. His mother, Marzia Rita Piazza Suprani, was crowned interim Miss Venezuela in 1969, after the resignation of the beauty contest winner that year. 

After 50 years of this unexpected crown, Piazza Suprani appears as a minority shareholder and secretary of at least two other of her son’s companies, as recorded in the Public Registry of Commerce, in Mexico City.

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A few months after Rangel Gómez’s arrival, Quimera Metals was incorporated

One of these companies is Inmobiliaria Capital 9, a variable capital company, i.e. a company for profit with capital divided into shares, engaged in the “disposal, acquisition, lease, marketing, administration and exchange of real estate,” incorporated on May 15, 2018 before the notary public 235 of Mexico City, Fernando Dávila Rebollar. In the incorporation papers, Piazza Suprani, the mother, appears as secretary, and González Piazza, the son, as president.

Another company is Arabian Soul Partners LTD, also a variable capital company. It was incorporated on June 3 of this year by the notary public 244 of Cuauhtémoc, Celso de Jesús Pola Castillo. The only objective of this company is to raise horses.

González Piazza's network of partners transcends the maternal side. Another name that stands out in the documents of the Public Registry of Commerce is Marciano Verdi, a young man born in Brazil, who praises the benefits of entrepreneurship in several YouTube videos (where he appears with a beard, light blue shirts and a golden Buddha next to a family photo in the background). “I believe that being an entrepreneur is not something you learn at school. You whether have the profile or not.”

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Marciano Verdi talks about entrepreneurship and knows who to partner with. He is a partner in one of González Piazza's companies.

And Verdi has it. He is a majority investor of Marcap Holding, a variable capital company, incorporated for an indefinite term on July 5, 2017, before the notary public 13 of Mexico City, Ignacio Soto Sobreyra. Its business purpose is to acquire shares, interests, holdings or stakes of other company groups.

González Piazza, the son-in-law of the retired general, and former governor Rangel Gómez, also seems to have what it takes.

Having Verdi as a majority investor, and with the same concept of variable capital company, on the same date, with the same notary public, in the same city and with the same corporate business purpose, González Piazza incorporated another company, Raw Holdings.

But unlike Verdi, his partner and entrepreneur guru; his mother, a former beauty queen; and his father-in-law, the well-known former governor Rangel Gómez, González Piazza does not have a good relationship with the media or the social media sites. Only the Facebook profile of Quimera Metals with 41 “friends” remains of that cluster of personalities. There is just a comment on the wall from April 27, 2018: “What a terrible insignificant company, as well as the people who work there.” 

The last connection from the account was on July 19, 2019, when someone saw a message requesting an interview for this job. There was no answer.

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After the Storm, Silence is Telling

The scheme of business interests developed by his son-in-law in Mexico explains why General Rangel Gómez chose to land in the security network of that country after leaving the Government of the State of Bolívar, which he ran for 13 long years.

He left office in October 2017 in a silent, very low-profile, almost unnatural way for a governor who had been characterized by extensive media exposure during his tenure.

It occurred in 2017, after an electoral fraud in which he undoubtedly participated.

In those days, in the streets of the state capital, Ciudad Bolívar - the old Angostura, on the banks of the Orinoco River -, the opponent, former deputy and former governor Andrés Velásquez, denounced that the ruling party wanted to ignore his electoral victory for the position of Governor of the State. His shouts mixed with the slogans and the sweat of his followers, the sleep-inducing heat and the tear gas that the National Guard fired from time to time to subdue the protest. Everything happened a few meters from the regional office of the National Electoral Council (CNE).

The election was on Sunday, October 15, 2017. At the end of the day, the president of the CNE, Tibisay Lucena, announced from Caracas that there was still no result for the Government of Bolívar. Later, in the early hours of Monday 16, the electoral authority awarded the winning title to Velásquez, but only for a few minutes. Then, the information disappeared from the web page and the uncertainty of the next two days began in the streets with the protests, the slogans of fraud, the tear gas.

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In the early hours of October 18, 2017, Rangel Gómez passed from the media climax to the shadows.

On October 17, at 12:12, the until then governor announced in his Twitter account (@rangelgomez), that another general and militant of the official United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Justo Noguera, would be his replacement. “Congratulations People of Bolívar. Once again you taught us a lesson on victorious democracy in peace @JustoNogueraP GOVERNOR! (sic)". Seven minutes later, he wrote his last tweet: “The aim is to continue thriving for Bolívar, Venezuela's non-oil alternative because of its resources and committed Workforce! @JustoNogueraP (sic).”

On October 18, Rangel Gómez arrived at midnight with Noguera and other PSUV militants at the regional office for the proclamation of the official candidate. They were protected by barricades, darkness, military men and the nine tons of each of the VN-4 tanks of the National Guard.

It was his last public appearance. Since then, Rangel Gómez remained silent and took another path, not in the State of Bolívar, but in Mexico. It was the bland end of a political career that, in the shadow of his arms colleague, Hugo Chávez Frías, made him the virtual tsar of the Venezuelan Guayana region, the place of the emergency petty cash pompously called by Chavismo as the Orinoco Mining Arc, which gave him a presidential candidate profile.

Before his son-in-law incorporated the business set-up, as he confessed in many interviews during his tenure, Francisco Rangel Gómez (born in Caracas on April 4, 1953), was not interested in popular-election positions in the public office.

With the administration of Hugo Chávez ?his fellow graduate in the Simón Bolívar promotion of 1975, of the Military Academy of Venezuela? began his transit through the public administration. In 1999, after a year as director of the Military Academy, he separated from the Army to take office in the Ministry of the Presidency. In 2001, by Chávez’s appointment, he arrived in Puerto Ordaz as head of Corporación Venezolana de Guayana (CVG), an agency that - with the status of ministry - former president Romulo Betancourt founded in 1960 to govern the rise of basic companies and the region.

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Upon arriving in the state of Bolívar and beginning his public administration, the Chavismo accused him of representing the "endogenous right," a euphemism that the revolutionary left foisted onto a military-developmentalist lodge that accompanied Chávez from the barracks.

Whether the term was accurate or not, Rangel Gómez did little to refute it from the Government. His life style justified his reputation as bon vivant, which he cultivated, for example, with his usual presence in Posada de Chiquito -one of the most famous seafood restaurants in Puerto Ordaz, and his penthouse in the residential complex Parque Loefling, one of the most expensive buildings in that city. It is a bastion of the professional and trading middle class on the left bank of the Caroní River, just at its confluence with the Orinoco River. The governor shamelessly professed his predilection for Rolex, Bell & Ross, IWC and Panerai watches, as well as for Tommy Hilfiger and Columbia shirts.

Less superficial and of greater political depth was the serious misunderstanding that he starred on April 11 to 13, 2002, when Chávez was removed from power for 47 hours.

On April 11, on the day of the coup against Hugo Chávez, Rangel Gómez asked to have the cameras of the regional channel TV Guayana to rule against the murders that took place in Caracas during a march of opponents going to the Miraflores Palace. These murders were used as an excuse for the rebels to declare disobedience to the Government and demand the resignation of President Chávez.

 

With a look that fluctuated between the floor and the camera, shrugged shoulders, interlocking fingers and more babbling than concrete phrases, he announced his resignation as head of CVG with a tricky statement. “Actually, I do not feel identified with the actions, particularly with today’s events. I prefer to leave the government sector. I take full responsibility. I had hopes that this deep crisis would be resolved, but it rather intensified with the unfortunate events we are witnessing in our capital city.”

The Chavista militancy never forgave that betrayal. However, against all odds, Chávez did forgive it.

Then, a whole series of corruption allegations against him, some from the left wing of his own ranks, would decimate the leadership of Rangel Gómez, who would always seek to bolster it up with a pretended technical profile.

The first accusation of corruption came from the Chavismo. In an internal report, Roy Rodríguez, president in 2001 of the state-owned company Ferrominera del Orinoco (FMO), warned the central government in Caracas that Rangel Gómez was committing “one of the most striking frauds in Guayana” by signing the contract with the Canadian company Cristallex for the exploitation of the Las Cristinas gold mine, located in the Sifontes municipality, in the south of the state.

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The first shadow of suspicion about Rangel Gómez appeared due to the contract between CVG and Cristallex. SCREENSHOT: GUAYANA: THE REVERSE MIRACLE

Chávez paid no attention to the warnings, but time confirmed that the alerts were justified. In 2010, eight years after the signing and, as journalist Damián Prat quoted in his book Guayana: el milagro al revés (Guayana: the reverse miracle), "not a gram of gold" had been produced in Las Cristinas. The transnational never made the guaranteed investments, with the excuse that the Ministry of Environment, i.e. its partner, denied the environmental permits, which actually happened. Instead, Cristallex traded its shares on the world's stock exchanges and made huge profits and multiplied its assets because it had the Las Cristinas concession in its asset portfolio.”

In 2010, Chávez, referred from Belarus to the project, recalling that “that mine is Venezuelan and had been handed over to transnationals. Today, I announce to the world that it was recovered by the revolutionary government,” Though that hand-over occurred during his “revolutionary government” and with the signature of his old friend Rangel Gómez, whom Chávez nominated, despite everything, as a candidate for governor of Bolívar. With a few words, he convinced him to run for governor: “Get involved into politics, you, fat one. You will like it."

 

He liked it indeed. He won the 2004 regional elections while on board of Hugo Chávez’s aircraft carrier, and took office until 2017. No other governor in the Republican history has held the position for so long.

Since his father-in-law was proclaimed governor in 2004, González Piazza developed much of his business with Venezuelan state-owned companies through Quimera Metals. His signature stands out in several documents signed with the State.

In Mexico, however, he did not deal with having all paperwork in order. For instance, Quimera never applied for permission with any of the 32 units of the Mexican National Water Commission (Conagua), a sine qua non condition for metal-handling companies.

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None of the 32 units of Conagua in Mexico have Quimera Metals applications. SCREENSHOTS: RICARDO BALDERAS.

It is, of course, a minor offense. Hence, it contributed less to raising the public profile of Quimera Metals and González Piazza than his participation in the 2014 event Mexico - Business Summit, chaired by the PRI politician Miguel Alemán Velasco. González Piazza had managed to rub shoulders with the greatest political and financial spheres of Mexico. He participated in the event as a speaker in the field of metal production.

Just a year earlier, the complaint filed before the Prosecutor's Office by opposition deputy Andrés Velásquez (also a contender for Rangel Gómez in three governor elections, in 2008, 2012 and in the election fraud perpetrated in 2017), had made the name of Carlos Rodrigo González Piazza hit the headlines in Venezuela. He denounced the father-in-law for influence peddling and agreement with contractors in favor of the son-in-law. The catalog of companies and conspirators presented by Velásquez was broad, but one name was constantly repeated, Quimera Metals.

That company, incorporated in 2005, obtained in 2006 the qualification to work with CVG Venalum, the Venezuelan state company engaged in the production of primary aluminum for export. According to Velásquez’s complaint in 2013, Venalum had been selling aluminum to V. Aluminum Group INC, which in turn resold the raw material to the Mexican Quimera Metals of the son-in-law of Rangel Gómez, who imported it through the port of Veracruz.

V. Aluminum Group is owned by Jesús Vergara Betancourt, creator of Fundación Lala, one of the most beloved philanthropic initiatives in Ciudad Guayana.Based on the records, the headquarters of V. Aluminum Group INC is on the second floor of edificio Torre Advanced, calle Ricardo Arias, Ciudad de Panamá. But in 2019, there are other offices there: Camarena, Morales and Vega-Abogados; Noia Industrial S.A.; GCP Applied Technologies; Jorge Constarangos G.-Abogados; Attorneys at Law-Débora de Costarangos; Dysautonomia in Panama; Realty-real estate, and Costarangos Realty. No one at the building's reception remembers that there was ever an office of V Aluminum Group.

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Vergara and González Piazza strengthened commercial ties since 2008. PHOTO: MARCOS VALVERDE.

The truth is that the negotiations of Vergara and González Piazza crossed the borders of the continent. On February 15, 2008, from Ciudad Guayana, Vergara sent a fax to JB Commodities AG, with principal office and place of business at Neuhofstrasse 4, 6341 Baar, Switzerland, with emphasis on “Attention: Rodrigo González,” which, after “greetings on behalf of V Aluminum Group INC”, submitted the quotation for 2,000 metric tons of P1020 aluminum. The price: $ 2,550 per metric ton. It was the same aluminum that Quimera Metals bought in Venezuela with preferential dollars and then resold it.

A search in the commercial registries of Caracas and the State of Bolívar allowed us to verify that Quimera Metals was never incorporated in Venezuela nor was it registered in the National Register of Contractors. Based on the foregoing, it is inferred that it could not contract with the Venezuelan State… an irregularity. And, above all, it was not in a position to participate in tenders.

Caroní Rapids by Bicycle

In September 2007, the office of CVG Internacional in Madrid, Spain, paid almost $ 1.7 million for the purchase of 30,000 bicycles requested by the Government of Bolívar with Rangel Gómez in office. The amount was billed by a company based in Barbados, Logistic Trading Services LTD. It was owned by Yamal Mustafá, owner of the Primicia de Puerto Ordaz newspaper, investigated and arrested in 2013 for participating in a traffic network of iron ore from Ferrominera del Orinoco.

Logistic Trading Services would appear in 2013 as the recipient of “at least 6 million US dollars” which, as Mustafa said to his interrogators of the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM), were to pay bribes to Colonel Juan Carlos Álvarez Dionisi, (a) The Shark, also arrested for the case of the iron ore traffic network.

But in 2007, no one knew that Logistic had sold bicycles, soccer balls and motorcycles to CVG and the Government of Bolívar - in both cases with Rangel Gómez in office – without a tender. The business did not limit to bicycles distributed by Rangel Gómez in public events, which were on the next day, the main photo in the newspapers picked for Government advertising schedules.

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One of González Piazza's companies was favored through CVG Internacional. PHOTO: MARCOS VALVERDE.

“Daniel, they asked us for 20,000 professional-sized balls (all white) with the new State Government logo that I'm sending you today by DHL. As usual, it must be a CIF quote to Pto (sic) Cabello or La Guaira and we need samples as soon as possible, as they must be here by the first half of April.”

With that message, on January 4, 2007, González Piazza asked one of his workers to have a quick quote for the government of Rangel Gómez. The balls were not the only request. "I hope to ride the bicycles in February." The interlocutor in this email is Daniel Infante, from Tasodi Comercializadora, another variable capital company in Mexico. Its president was González Piazza.

 

The scandal over Velásquez's accusations in 2013 faded away between the deepening of the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and the political dynamics imposed by the newly established regime of Nicolás Maduro. But in 2016, the scandal of the so-called Panama Papers would end up showing that a good part of the assets of Rangel Gómez and his family were protected in tax havens.

Showcases in Tax Havens

On a rainy noon in late July 2019, a watchman opens the sliding window of the guard booth in Residencias Vista Real in Puerto Ordaz, Bolívar. It is a brick building with electric fencing. Real estate agents report that the cost of an apartment in this building ranges from 60,000 to 150,000 dollars.

-Good afternoon. Is the headquarters of Argeneus LTD here?

-No.

-Are there any offices here?

-No. Only family apartments.

-But I have records that here is the headquarters of that company.

-A false office. That is the only way. What is the name of the person in charge of that?

-Carmelo Chircop, Karina Isabel Meléndez Quintero, Gabriel Dingli and Francisco Rangel Escobar.

-None of them are here, man. That is an empty apartment. That Rangel is the son of Rangel Gómez.

-Which Rangel? The governor?

-Yes.

The watchman knows that something is weird in the building. Or that it was weird at some point, when a SUV with the logo of the Government of Bolivar was regularly parked in front of the main entrance.

Apartment 7-1 of this building, built at the intersection of Caruachi Street and Las Americas Avenue, appears as the headquarters of Argeneus LTD, a company registered on April 29, 2014 in Malta, an island nation of the Eastern Mediterranean. As the watchman confirmed, the son of Rangel Gómez is or was one of the partners.

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The information about Argeneus LTD was in the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca & Co, source of the massive leak that in 2016 gave rise to the Panama Papers. Argeneus is incorporated in Malta. Its president is Francisco José Rangel Escobar, son of former Governor Rangel Gómez. But traces of the companies of Rangel and his close circle also lead to Panama, Mexico and Barbados, as verified in different databases.

There are three companies in Panama with Carlos Rodrigo González Piazza as president, Blackshaw International Corp., Brieta Group Corp. and Toreto Holdings INC. The Mexican Ana Paula Santander always appears in their board of directors. She worked at Quimera Metals with her brother, Jorge Santander, and apparently, she knew at length the amounts of the transactions that the Government of Rangel Gómez invested in his son-in-law’s companies.

For instance, an email of October 23, 2007, with the subject "Volare (8) Invoice” gives a hint of that. Ana Paula Santander writes to González Piazza from [email protected]: "RO (sic), here is the invoice for 8 trucks. Regards". The October 18, 2007 invoice was issued by Logistic Trading Services LTD (the same company in Barbados where Yamal Mustafa had shares) to the Economic Development Fund of the State of Bolívar, attached to the State Government. Indeed, the description details Volare W9 Marcopolo buses. The difference is in the number of units. They were not only eight, as Santander said in the email, but 30. The amount: almost 2 million dollars.

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Ana Paula Santander, an employee of González Piazza, learned about the juicy transactions with the government of Rangel Gómez. SCREENSHOT: RICARDO BALDERAS.

In the End, a Migrant

While the corruption scheme was hatched, there were dissenting voices within Chavismo that smelled something fishy about Rangel Gomez. In 2007, the official group known as Revolution in the Revolution (Renlar) tried to set up a referendum to revoke the governor's position. It did not collect enough signatures.

On the other hand, in 2008, the newly created United Socialist Party of Venezuela nominated Rangel Gómez as a candidate for reelection. On November 23 of that year, he won with 210,000 votes (47.38%). For that campaign and the next one, he had an ally, whose procedures unleashed a continental shock and took several former Latin American presidents to jail and even lead one of them to suicide, Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction company.

Odebrecht's superintendent director in Venezuela, Euzenando Azevedo, said in 2016, during investigations of the case of payments of bribes to government officials throughout Latin America, which contributed to Rangel's 2008 and 2012 campaigns, "He always promised that when he had high-level meetings with the Government, he would ask to prioritize the development of our works."

In 2012, Rangel won his third election with 173,000 votes (with allegations of fraud and opportunism made by his contender Andrés Velásquez) and initiated his third period. He did not only have the support of Odebrecht for that campaign. He also had government funds; at least two cases left traces of that. First, five million bolivars that CVG Minerven deposited on September 28, 2012, as “mission funds,” in the account of Corpobrica - a company of Yamal Mustafa - in Banco Caroní for snacks for proselytizing events. Second, funds from the government itself, intended for propaganda ?at least 664 million bolivars.

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The next year, after Mustafa’s imprisonment, many assumed that the government of Rangel Gómez had come to an end, but he overcame obstacles to remain in power until the end of his third term.

In 2018, based on a press release of El Pitazo, several Venezuelan media assumed that Rangel Gómez and his wife, Nidia Escobar, were seeking asylum in Mexico. When asked about it, the National Migration Institute of Mexico refused to give information for this investigation.

However, a source from that agency confirmed that in September 2018, Rangel was detained for a few hours at the International Airport of Cancun, the beach resort in the Yucatan Peninsula. Immigration authorities interrogated him about the status of the sanctions imposed by both the United States and Canada. When they determined that there was no court ruling, they let him go.

According to the Office of Foreign Assets Control (Ofac) of the US Department of the Treasury, until May 2017, Diosdado Cabello Rondón, governor of Miranda from 2004 to 2008, president of the National Assembly of Venezuela from 2013 to 2015, the second in command of Chavismo, developed “illegal” mining businesses related to other personalities in Venezuelan politics, including Francisco José Rangel Gómez.

Based on the accusation, Cabello Rondón and Rangel Gómez would have laundered money from Venezuelan coffers by embezzling funds through apartment buildings and shopping centers. In addition, Cabello, Rangel Gómez and their associates would have worked together to illegally access mining. Specifically, they would have extracted iron for export through Ferrominera del Orinoco (FMO). Although FMO is a legitimate company, Cabello and his associates would be linked to company leaders that facilitated the illegal extraction and export of the extracted material.

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There is at least another certainty about Cancun and the Rangel Escobar family kept in the First Notary Office of Puerto Ordaz, a permit signed by Francisco José Rangel Escobar and Aline Renée Urreiztieta de Rangel for their two children (a girl and a boy) to travel abroad accompanied by Nidia Escobar de Rangel. Date of the trip: April 7, 2017. Itinerary: from Simón Bolívar International Airport, in Maiquetía, to Cancun International Airport. Aircraft registration number: N787NM.

In the same notary office, there is another virtually simultaneous authorization for Nidia Escobar to travel with those grandchildren from Maiquetía to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on April 17, 2017, on the same plane. 

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The oldest daughter of Rangel Gómez also cultivated her business in Guayana

The First Notary Office not only reveals that information about trips on private flights, but also other businesses of the Rangel Gómez family.

For example, in the 2017 files of that office is the document whereby the representative of company Come Sano, with tax information registry J-40555534-3 (incorporated in 2015), rents a premise on the ground floor of Centro Empresarial 303, in Alta Vista, Puerto Ordaz. In that premise operates the O2 gym, owned by the representative of that company, María Alejandra Rangel Escobar, the eldest daughter of the former governor, who in 2015, asked the PSUV militants not to be upset if they did not get food, because he was willing to “eat sticks and fried stones” to defend the “revolution”.Today, in Bolívar, only some of the thousands of fences with the image of Rangel Gómez are left. They are no longer colorful and bright, but opaque, as he prefers to be now.

*PODER (Mexican non-profit organization) collaborated with this report from Mexico City and will publish a version on its web portal.