In the menu of Squire Patton Boggs, the powerful firm that brings together a law firm and public relations bureau, the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela found several options to its liking: from lobbying against adverse laws to suing a web portal. Now, the company, which at the time has equally served a bloody Guatemalan dictator or the Palestinian Authority, is responsible for assisting Efraín Campos, nephew of the Venezuelan 'First Combatant', accused of drug trafficking in a court in New York.
Businesses have no borders. So says the page of the law firm that, since last November 12, is responsible for the defense of Efraín Campo Flores, the nephew of Cilia Flores, wife of the president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro. Campo Flores was arrested last November accused of drug trafficking along with his cousin, Franqui Flores. The former was guaranteed a defense with one of the 30 largest law firms in the world that also ranked second in the US lobbying business. Squire Patton Boggs is the defense firm of many interests in Washington DC, a member of the establishment in the US capital.The firm, as it is now known, was born in 2014, as a result of the merger of many other firms. The first, the oldest, is Squire, Sanders & Dempsey. It was founded in Cleveland (Ohio, USA) in 1890 and until the 90s, it was a law firm with offices in its country of origin and Brussels, Belgium only. The fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the former Soviet Union after the end of the Cold War marked the rise of the group, which intervened in much of the privatization processes of companies in the former Soviet republics.
In January 2011, it merged with the European Hammonds, incorporated in Yorkshire (United Kingdom) in 1887, which had turn merged with Edge Ellison in 2000. From being the most important group in its country, it acquired a millionaire debt that led to a drastic downsizing, a situation that significantly improved when joining Squire, Sanders & Dempsey and that, undoubtedly, would improve even more over the years.
The third law firm is Patton Boggs, founded by James R. Patton Jr in 1962. His fall is recent. They participated in Ecuador's lawsuit against Chevron Corp, filed for the dumping of over 800,000 tons of petroleum waste between 1964 and 1992, in the Lago Agrio area. The dispute was "settled" when the oil company agreed with the law firm to pay 15 million dollars provided Chevron withdrew allegations of fraud, deception and malicious accusation against the firm. The Ecuadorian citizens who filed the lawsuit, dissatisfied, accused Patton Boggs of "betrayal". Hewitt Pate, Chevron's general counsel, said the company was "pleased that they had ended their association with the litigation for fraud and extortion in Ecuador," and Patton Boggs apologized and agreed to cooperate with the international company. The negotiations for the merger with Squire Sands started earlier and this collision was an obstacle. Once settled, the merger took place in June 2014.
This is how Squire Patton Boggs was born, with 44 offices in 21 countries and an annual turnover of 775 million dollars, according to American Lawyer.
The case of Cilia Flores' nephew is not the only case taken by the law firm. For a few weeks, they have been in charge of the case of the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) against the DolarToday website. This site publishes the rate of what is known in the country as "parallel dollar" or "black-market dollar." The exchange control existing in the country since 2003, was implemented - according to the then President Hugo Chávez - to prevent the flight of foreign currency after the three-month oil strike that tried to overthrow the revolutionary leader. It was intended as a temporary measure, but since then and, for now, it is here to stay. For instance, Venezuelans who want to travel abroad must request authorization for the government to be assigned dollars. Depending on their destination and the length of stay, they are assigned a greater or lesser amount. The same happens with the companies - regardless of the size - that want to import goods. To understand the significance of this control, it must be pointed out that Venezuela's production depends to a large extent on imports. Though there are pharmaceuticals in the country, the active ingredients are imported. There is corn flour, but the grain mostly comes from abroad.
The control of foreign currencies has generated a demand that in turn created a parallel rate, which first varied according to the bidder. In 2010, if the official dollar was at Bs. 6.30, it could be obtained at Bs. 10 on the black market. That year, DolarToday appeared, a page that published the rate of the "unmentionable," coined like that due to the Government's prohibition to mention it and give its value. Nobody knew who was behind the page or what was exactly the calculation method of this black-market rate. The investigation “DolarToday - The most famous revenge of three Venezuelans”, by Armando.Info, El Pitazo TV and Poderopedia Venezuela, uncovered some of the faces behind the website. Then ?after the government of Nicolás Maduro vociferated several threats against the portal, which was accused of being part of a conspiracy against the national currency? the BCV came into play. This is when the firm came into the picture.
Squire Patton Bogs is in charge of this litigation against the members of DolarToday. It is the only case which they wanted to talk about with Armando.Info. While their website has contact information of each of the lawyers making up their firm, at the time of declaring they are more reluctant. They were contacted in the New York office, which is in charge of the case of the Flores nephew. The call never went beyond the receptionist, who many times insisted on knowing "who sent us." They said it was impossible to accept an interview. At the publishing of this press release, the lawyers of that office did not answer the successive emails sent to them. After contacting the Washington DC office and also sending several emails, Adam R. Fox finally answered, who agreed to a teleconference interview via Skype.
Adam R. Fox, young, but with 18 years of experience in the company - started with Squire Sanders - tells from his home in Los Angeles that he is one of the lawyers in charge of the DolarToday case. He insists that he can only talk about that case, "I do not know about other cases. I am not involved in the case of Cilia Flores' nephew. I do not even know which of my colleagues is." Nor does he say how much is BCV paying to its company. "I am focused on the case, not on those details." Nor does he know who is in charge of this contract in Venezuela, "a lot of BCV people talk to us." On his case, he says that most Americans do not know what DolarToday is, nor do they have any interest in what the BCV does.
"It is in Delaware, and at least 15 people are responsible for making rates. Where do you get that information? Why are they doing that? Why do they make those numbers with which they are illicitly getting rich?" he says calmly, alluding to the fact that he does not know if the Venezuelan government is popular or unpopular, but that he is on the side of a central bank – “a small part of a government that is engaged in monetary policy and is having this problem."
Another case of the Venezuela chapter in this law firm is Citgo and a decree issued by President Barack Obama on March 9. Citgo is the subsidiary company of PDVSA in USA. In 2014, the Human Rights Defense Law project was presented in Venezuela to investigate and punish some officials of the Venezuelan Government who, according to Washington DC, had committed human rights violations during the repression of the guarimbas (street blockades and protests) of 2014. But someone stopped the project, the Senator of the Democratic Party, Mary Landrieu, president of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Citgo contacted her through a series of emails that were published on the website of the Político magazine after a leak. They communicated the senator their uncertainty about the law and the possible repercussion it could have on their company. "If the law is approved, it would affect the import of crude from our refinery in Lakes Charles (Louisiana, United States), and led to the dismissal of hundreds of employees."
What is Squire Patton Boggs’ role here? Several things. On the one hand, it was the lobby group that Citgo hired to convince the senator to stop the law that was passed in the end. On the other hand, were the main financiers of the Landrieu campaign.
From supporting the causes of the Bolivarian, Socialist, Chavez and Workers' Revolution to support the causes of someone accused of the largest genocide in Latin America, one just have to go back a few years. Fernando Romeo Lucas García arrived at the presidency of Guatemala after the 1978 elections. Since then until 1982, he ruled the Central American country with dictatorial shades. Along with his successor, Efraín Ríos Montt - who came to power after a coup d'état, is identified as one of the leading individuals responsible for human rights violations in Guatemala.
"In 1976, there was an earthquake that devastated Guatemala. Lucas García sensed in '78 that the guerrillas in Guatemala were growing. It was the result of the injustice and inequality that governed after the catastrophe. He began to see the advance of the revolutionary movements in Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador, and felt that he was losing power. He was the one who let the violence in Guatemala reach to such level," says Martín Rodríguez Wachikaj, a Guatemalan journalist, founder of the Nómada newspaper.
A total of 200,000 murdered, 50,000 disappeared and a million internally displaced persons or refugees in Mexico, in a country that had then 7 million inhabitants, is the disastrous balance of Lucas García and his successor. "There were more social leaders disappeared than in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile together. He took violence to horrifying levels," says Rodríguez Wachikaj. In the high plane, violence against the indigenous communities that claimed their rights was extreme. When they wanted to raise their voice in a more visible place, death found them. On January 31, 1980, they went to the Spanish embassy in the capital to demonstrate. "Romeo Lucas prohibited the fire brigades to approach the embassy and burned everyone: peasants, students, diplomats, politicians. He slaughtered 38 people."
During the government of Lucas García, the United States of America stop through the Congress the aid for military purposes in Guatemala. The Guatemalan dictator tried to iron out the differences with the neighbor from the north with money and talk in order to slam the iron fist in his country. For that purpose, lobbyist Thomas H. Boggs Jr, father of the firm Patton Boggs, was the last joining Squire Patton Boggs.
In the fire of the embassy of Spain, Vicente Menchú, father of Rigoberta, the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner, was killed. And she was the one who brought a case against him before the National Court of Spain. When Lucas García was overthrown, he went into exile. Then the story returns to "little Venice." He found refuge in Venezuela and died Venezuela, lying in his bed, as he spent the last years of his life, suffering from Alzheimer's, without remembering the crimes for which he was never tried, accompanied by his wife, Elsa Cirigliano, Venezuelan, member of a family of entrepreneurs from the state of Anzoategui (northeast of Venezuela).
Squire Patton Boggs’ influences virtually spread all over the world, and it has in the Middle East, a hot spot of the planet, an important presence as a lobby, without no one turning their noses up at what may be behind. Last August, it was revealed that the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, used the fight against the so-called Islamic State in the area near its border as a pretext to "carry out a campaign of genocide attack against the Kurdish people," according to Huffington Post. A high-ranking US official accused Turkey of cheating the US government by using the Incirlik Air Base to attack Isis (acronym for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorist group), as a cover to attack the Kurdistan Workers' Party (or PKK, its Kurdish acronym) in the north of Iraq, stated the Wall Street Journal. According to this newspaper, there were only three attacks against Isis and 300 against the PKK. The aim was to punish the minority movement in the face of the elections.
Erdogan wanted to clear his name and the name of his government, hence, he hired the communications office. He paid $ 32,000 a month to subcontract a lobby to access the Gephardt group. He spent in all public relations groups around five million dollars a year.
Squire Patton Boggs also offered to help another client, the Palestinian Authority. The payment of $ 55,000 per month was intended to assist the Palestinian government in the evaluation by the US Senate on whether or not to continue sending economic aid to the Palestinian people after the association of the Authority with Hamas, considered in the country of the North as a terrorist organization.
In the Middle East, the list of this lobby goes on. It received money from Libya since 2011. The total amount of 2014 amounted to $ 265,000. Last year, it received $ 427,000 from Qatar, a client since 1994. Saudi Arabia paid somewhat less than $ 227,000. All this money to take the interests of these countries to top leaderships of the United States to protect them, different interests related to oil, gas, health or financing.
"We represent companies, individuals, governments. Sometimes people look on what we do with favor, others don’t," explains Adam R. Fox. "All I can say is that when I am involved in this, I try to understand the details under the law and make sure that I can get up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror, be happy with myself. I feel good about that, pleased with what I do in Venezuela."
Venezuela, the Palestinian Authority, Turkey against the Kurds or oil from Saudi Arabia, different interests that, apparently, do not clash with ideologies. As the poet said it, money talks.
When Vice President Delcy Rodríguez turned to a group of Mexican friends and partners to lessen the new electricity emergency in Venezuela, she laid the foundation stone of a shortcut through which Chavismo and its commercial allies have dodged the sanctions imposed by Washington on PDVSA’s exports of crude oil. Since then, with Alex Saab, Joaquín Leal and Alessandro Bazzoni as key figures, the circuit has spread to some thirty countries to trade other Venezuelan commodities. This is part of the revelations of this joint investigative series between the newspaper El País and Armando.info, developed from a leak of thousands of documents.
Leaked documents on Libre Abordo and the rest of the shady network that Joaquín Leal managed from Mexico, with tentacles reaching 30 countries, ―aimed to trade PDVSA crude oil and other raw materials that the Caracas regime needed to place in international markets in spite of the sanctions― show that the businessman claimed to have the approval of the Mexican government and supplies from Segalmex, an official entity. Beyond this smoking gun, there is evidence that Leal had privileged access to the vice foreign minister for Latin America and the Caribbean, Maximiliano Reyes.
The business structure that Alex Saab had registered in Turkey—revealed in 2018 in an article by Armando.info—was merely a false start for his plans to export Venezuelan coal. Almost simultaneously, the Colombian merchant made contact with his Mexican counterpart, Joaquín Leal, to plot a network that would not only market crude oil from Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, as part of a maneuver to bypass the sanctions imposed by Washington, but would also take charge of a scheme to export coal from the mines of Zulia, in western Venezuela. The dirty play allowed that thousands of tons, valued in millions of dollars, ended up in ports in Mexico and Central America.
As part of their business network based in Mexico, with one foot in Dubai, the two traders devised a way to replace the operation of the large international credit card franchises if they were to abandon the Venezuelan market because of Washington’s sanctions. The developed electronic payment system, “Paquete Alcance,” aimed to get hundreds of millions of dollars in remittances sent by expatriates and use them to finance purchases at CLAP stores.
Scions of different lineages of tycoons in Venezuela, Francisco D’Agostino and Eduardo Cisneros are non-blood relatives. They were also partners for a short time in Elemento Oil & Gas Ltd, a Malta-based company, over which the young Cisneros eventually took full ownership. Elemento was a protagonist in the secret network of Venezuelan crude oil marketing that Joaquín Leal activated from Mexico. However, when it came to imposing sanctions, Washington penalized D’Agostino only… Why?
Through a company registered in Mexico – Consorcio Panamericano de Exportación – with no known trajectory or experience, Joaquín Leal made a daring proposal to the Venezuelan Guyana Corporation to “reactivate” the aluminum industry, paralyzed after March 2019 blackout. The business proposed to pay the power supply of state-owned companies in exchange for payment-in-kind with the metal.