Brazilian construction companies also gave little bites

Delations of the 'Lava Jato' case in Brazil have produced an outpouring of testimonies about irregular payments that flood and splash power circles in Venezuela. But not everything happens between hierarchs of politics. The contractors, with Odebrecht at the head, distributed where they thought was necessary and in the right magnitudes. While papers of the Brazilian prosecutor's office continue filtering, the talk of the files mentions a wide range of personalities that includes from businessman Gustavo Cisneros to a member of the opposition.

6 June 2017

Not only with big fishes, but also with small baits, bites of moderate amounts, the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht won the favors of intermediaries and second-line officials. It is what is being learned, as the largest corruption plot in the history of Brazil reveals, the Lava Jato, the film of which is not finally being projected. This week, the prosecutors in the case opted to postpone the publication of the files they have been promising to publish for the rest of Latin America. But invoices, transfers and testimonies appear in dribs and drabs, which are evidence that the Brazilians bought large favors and small favors in the Bolivarian Republic.

For example, a transfer of US$ 50,000 from Multibank of Panama ended in account number 7575921120 of the Commercebank of Miami on October 3, 2007. The issuer was Constructora Internacional del Sur, a front company of the isthmus that - as has been proven - served as a cover for Odebrecht to pay bribes abroad. The receiving account in Florida is accredited in the name of José Pestana, a Venezuelan official then in charge of the Project of Line 4 of Metro de Caracas.

There is evidence of that in the Special Anticorruption Prosecutor's Office of Panama and also in Switzerland, where one of the key figures in this tangle of deposits and transfers appeared, financial operator Fernando Migliaccio, who remained at the head of the Department of Structured Operations —a euphemism found in Odebrecht to avoid presenting themselves as the unit of bribes and commissions— through which they made deposits to officials, like the engineer in charge of contract MC-2932 of Metro de Caracas.

José Pestana Goncalves was the manager of the National Housing Institute (Inavi) in the Capital District and state of Vargas, on the central Venezuelan coast. In late 2010, he was promoted by Minister Ricardo Molina, which allowed him to become regional director of the Ministry for Housing and Habitat. Three years before, when he received the transfer, he was acting as representative of the Venezuelan Government in the Line 4 Consortium. Meaningfully, his career as a public official ended up —as it is recorded in the Venezuelan Institute of Social Security— in the payroll of one of Odebrecht’s firms (CBPO Ing de Venezuela), which he had to supervise.

Although we tried to reach him, there were no answers. Not even in the address indicated in the account where he received the transfer. The building's concierge confirmed that it was his home, but he never opened the door when knocked, nor answered the messages left in writing.

A DEPUTY IN BETWEEN

Far from the exchange control and the regulations imposed by the Venezuelan government, the commissions of Odebrecht and the rest of the Brazilian construction companies based in Venezuela never went through the local banks. However, the Venezuelan addresses of some beneficiaries of the disbursements have allowed connecting the points. Hence, there was a deposit of US$ 377,000 to the general coordinator of the project of the second bridge over the Orinoco River, Lucas Valera.  The same is happening today with a transfer to the account of a company registered in Panama under the name of Quest Investment Group Inc, but the address of which is an office on the 4th floor of Centro Coinasa in La Castellana, eastern Caracas, which corresponds to the law firm of the Venezuelan opposition deputy, Eudoro González Dellán.

Certain that he has not committed any irregularity, the head of the Venezuelan delegation to the Mercosur Parliament and leader of the Primero Justicia (Justice First) party —the same party of the two-time presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, and the president of the National Assembly, Julio Borges— Dellán says that it is a transfer addressed not to him or his company, but to one of the many international firms to which he has provided services from his law firm. He did not say the name of the company though. He rather keeps it confidential.

When first asked on the subject, González Dellán promised to find out which of his customers was, but said that, like they did to many others, at some time they provided services in his office to establish Andrade Gutierrez in the country, the Brazilian construction company with the most contracts in Venezuela after Odebrecht. The second time he was more cautious; he said it was not about that firm.

"We reviewed the matter in the office and it is a foreign consulting company, but we called, they automatically told us that they have no connection - and I believe them - with Lava Jato or Petrobras or anything about that thing," he said. "I cannot say more. I do not have to say anything more about their operations, about what they do or do not do. At the end of the day, I am a lawyer, they ask for consultation, and everyone does their business."

There is nothing else. The deputy preferred not to give more details about an irregular transfer related to the address of his firm, which the Federal Police of Brazil denounces in at least three reports on file in the Regional Delegation of Combat against the Organized Crime of the Superintendence of the State of Paraná. According to these testimonies, it is a payment sent by construction company Andrade Gutierrez through a parallel structure.

For more information, it was a deposit of one of the many offshore firms (DGX Import and Export Limited, registered in Hong Kong) that Andrade Gutierrez used as a facade. This is reflected in the transfer and reinforces the already famous doleiro (black market dollar dealer) Alberto Youssef, a commissioner who, unable to explain his banking movements, ended up in 2013 detonating the corruption case that has blown up the Brazilian establishment and a large part of the region.

CAPRILES MENTIONED

Nobody pictured businessman Marcelo Odebrecht, the strong man of businesses in Brazil, being sentenced to more than 19 years in prison. Not to mention the scandals that compromise former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva or the current president, Michel Temer. Even opponents such as the former presidential candidate, Aecio Neves, have been splashed. This week, they included the Venezuelan opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, in the Odebrecht list. Valor Económico magazine in Sao Paulo gave the shocking news that in the presidential elections of 2012, the Brazilian construction giant did not put the eggs in one basket. Although they financed the last
re-election of former president Hugo Chávez, they contributed to the campaign of the Venezuelan opposition at the same time.

The Federal Police of Brazil had already suggested that opponents to Chavez also received their share: "Marcelo Bahia Odebrecht (the CEO of the company) warns of illicit payments to the opposition." That was recorded on June 25 of the previous year in one of the many reports that have been leaking. But this time, the accusations are directly against the governor of the state of Miranda (center of the country) and made by Euzenando Azevedo, the strong man of Odebrecht in Venezuela, who joined the list of witnesses turned into informers, in exchange for procedural benefits.

Azevedo knows better than anyone what happened in Venezuela. Discreet, as a good businessman, and with the characteristic Brazilian sympathy, he knew how to move without making noise through the twists and turns of the Bolivarian spheres. So much so, that Chávez never spared praises and good words. "Good friend," he publicly referred to him on November 13, 2006, while highlighting his role during the inauguration of the second bridge over the Orinoco River. "A very special hug for Euzenando and a very, very special congratulation on his unwavering will of steel in giving impetus to the work and the different works in progress in Venezuela".

No complaint had been heard from the Odebrecht viceroy in Caracas. The last time he was seen landing in Venezuela was on December 17 of last year, aboard flight 223 from Panama. Invisible since then, his testimony - now leaked by Brazilian media - indicates that he was removed from office when Nicolás Maduro learned that the company was also betting on the opposition campaign.

According to Valor Económico, when the intelligence service in Venezuela detected Odebrecht's contribution to the Capriles campaign, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nicolás Maduro, threatened to cut all contracts. The Brazilian company had no choice but to relieve its ambassador and assign him other tasks. Things continued in apparent calm but Chavismo's romance with the construction company ended. It came to the point that Azevedo warns in his testimony that the government came to hold up US$ 1 billion that they paid then little by little.

Capriles has denied any connection with the case; thus, he recalled in February that did he not sign any contract with Odebrecht or any other of the contractors of this plot neither when in the Mayor’s Office of Baruta nor in the Government of the state of Miranda. "They intend to make me the scapegoat", he said at the beginning of the year, when the governing party was trying to incriminate him. "Now it turns out that after the corrupt government contracted millions with Odebrecht, I am the one to blame! They are a shame! I am embarrassed on their behalf.”

FAVORS FOR CISNEROS AND BRAHMA

The backlash of the so-called Lava Jato case in Venezuela highlights the debate over the financing of politics, which changed after 1999, when the parties were left without State funds. The plot of Brazil strips politicians of that country and others, and also a number of entrepreneurs who have chosen to pay favors, e.g. the Venezuelan businessman Gustavo Cisneros, whose name also came to light in the many deeds processed by Brazilian prosecutors.

Cisneros hired the lobby of former Lula’s minister and leader of the Workers Party of Brazil, José Dirceu, to intercede with President Hugo Chávez and succeed in renewing the Venevisión channel concession. Company Ambev (the mega multinational owner -among different brands- of Brahma beer) made something similar. It resorted to the same services to negotiate with the high government a smooth exit from the Venezuelan market.

"We had a problem in Venezuela, the exchange was controlled, we had difficulties with the government of (Hugo) Chávez, which was a closed government (...) and that exit needed to be negotiated with the government for the situation not to echo in other countries where we have a strong presence like Argentina and Central America," said Milton Seligman on behalf of company Ambev. "We wanted an exit negotiated with the government (...) and I remembered to look for Dirceu because I knew he was close to President Chávez".

“Dirceu took me three times to speak personally with Chavez. After that, money started to flow faster”

Dirceu’s company, JD Assessoria e Consultoria, received over 12 million U.S. dollars between 2006 and 2013 for political lobbying and favors that he could undertake only due to his proximity to Lula Da Silva and his sphere. In addition to the assignments hired by Cisneros and Ambev, another Brazilian company, Consilux, appealed to Dirceu, whose mediation was good enough for the company executives to meet not once or twice, but three times with former President Chávez. They asked him to cancel the entries of a project of Misión Vivienda (Housing Mission) promising 5,000 houses in the Cayaurima housing complex of Ciudad Bolívar.

"Dirceu took me three times to speak personally with Chávez, and after that, the money started to flow faster," confessed the owner of the company, Aldo Vendramin, in the interrogations and interviews he has given since then. The houses, nevertheless, remained in promises and 416 million dollars were committed between them, of which there is no news.

From the passage of company Consilux through Venezuela, there were only photos of workers on hunger strike outside the Brazilian embassy in Caracas. They traveled in May 2011 from the state of Bolívar, in the south, to the Venezuelan capital, on the north coast, to ask for labor liabilities and back wages for a year. Later on, the complaints came from some of the beneficiaries who were given half-finished homes. Their testimonies verify the hemorrhage of public funds now read in the files of Lava Jato. And with episodes of this magnitude, Odebrecht and the rest of the Brazilian construction companies of the Lava Jato case distributed the booty in Venezuela by small bites.

(*)This report is a work researched and published simultaneously by the Network of Structured Journalistic Investigations, which includes IDL-Reporteros in Peru, La Prensa in Panama, La Nación in Argentina, and Armando.info in Venezuela.

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