The network of intermediaries contracting with the Venezuelan Foreign Trade Corporation (Corpovex) to bring CLAP boxes seems infinite. In Sabadell, a town near Barcelona, a virtually cash shell company got 70 million dollars for outsourcing the shipment of food to Venezuela thanks to the administration of Nicolás Maduro, which buys the contents of the boxes at discretionary prices and without control. Last year alone, the government spent 2,500 to 3,500 million dollars, but only the leaders of the "Bolivarian revolution" know the actual figure.
"Blessed the day on which the Local Supply and Production Committees, the CLAPs, were born," President Nicolás Maduro affirmed as he walked among small crops at the Fabricio Ojeda Endogenous Nucleus, a sort of artisanal sowing yard, west of Caracas, on last March 12 during the celebration of the second anniversary of the state plan. "We have to learn to produce. Venezuela must be a school, a productive field," the president harangued.
His words are contradictory, because if something stands out in the millions of CLAP boxes distributed in recent months is not the strength of Venezuelan production but the assortment of imported products unknown in the Venezuelan market, sometimes of dubious quality, which have fattened the accounts of at least a dozen intermediaries - many of them registered in tax havens - to import food mostly from Mexico, but also from Uruguay, Chile, Brazil and Panama.
The business routes behind the CLAPs seem endless and reach the old continent, specifically Sabadell, 30 kilometers from Barcelona, Spain, where there is a company earning millions of dollars with the program created by Nicolás Maduro two years ago to face what he calls an "economic war" and to meet the needs of a population hit by inflation and shortages.
MIR Importació i Exportació SL, a company that, like other companies favored by the Government, has a rather ghostly presence, is registered in Sabadell. It barely exists in the registry and on the web, but the Venezuelan Foreign Trade Corporation (Corpovex) —the state holding company that centralizes public imports— granted it contracts for the supply of two million CLAP boxes.
reveal that the Catalan company billed at a price of 34.87 dollars per unit,
which is 34 million 870 thousand dollars for each million of food sent to
Venezuela. This was the amount of the first contract signed by MIR Importació i
Exportació with Corpovex under the identification
CPVX-CJ-CONT-0034-2017. Sources familiar with the business add that the fulfillment of that contract was tied to a second contract for the supply of another million CLAP boxes, subscribed under number CPVX-CJ-CONT-0067-2017.
Well Though Consultants —a consultancy firm ran by Army Major General Hebert García Plaza, former Minister of Food and Water and Air Transportation in the early years of Maduro's administration— also attributed the company two million boxes in a list of companies related to CLAPs that recently leaked on social media.
The two million boxes allowed MIR Importació i Exportació to receive almost 70 million dollars from the Venezuelan coffers in a matter of months. It is not a minor figure if one thinks of companies like Empresas Polar, the largest private group in Venezuela, to which the National Center for Foreign Trade (Cencoex) owes 130 million dollars in arrears for more than 1,000 days for imports made by the company.
MIR Importació i Exportació is certainly doing better with CLAP without having to build industrial plants or hire thousands of employees, like Empresas Polar does. The company in Sabadell has no workers, no office, not even a contact telephone. The telephone number in Spain printed on the invoices refers to the agency that registered the company, while the telephone number in Venezuela is attended by a person who claims to know nothing about MIR Importació i Exportació or its businesses. They never answered the interview request for this report sent by email.
Although it was created for food trade, MIR Importació i Exportació was registered in 2011 by a pharmacist from L'Hospitalet (Barcelona). Two years ago, "after being virtually inactive," the pharmacist decided to liquidate it, as he explains when asked by El País newspaper in Spain. "But when I look for the manager to do the paperwork, they told me that a person wanted to buy it. They paid me the expenses incurred, so I could recover them," he said and asked to remain anonymous.
That operation took place in October 2016, just as the CLAPs began to take hold in Venezuela and intermediary companies from the Venezuelan government, like Postar Intertrade Limited, began to arrive in Mexico looking for tons of food like rice, sugar, canned tuna, mayonnaise or milk powder, some of the items included in the CLAP boxes.
The information that appears in the commercial register of MIR Importació i Exportació was provided by an agency in Sabadell, to where the headquarters of the company was moved when purchased. A Venezuelan appears as a shareholder and administrator of the company, the daughter of the couple who is really in charge of managing the business, Juan Vicente Roversi Thomas. He is the "legal representative" of the company before the state-owned Corpovex, and according to the registration papers, he acts as "attorney" since last year’s February.
This is the same Juan Vicente Roversi who, until 2012, was the director of special projects in the municipality of Juan Antonio Sotillo, State of Anzoátegui, east of the country, during the government of Stalin Fuentes, member of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Psuv) and whose management was questioned even by fellow party members.
According to the testimony of people around him, Roversi lives between Spain and Venezuela. An employee of the agency confirmed that they provided "several services" to MIR Exportació i Importació, but affirmed that they stopped working with that company. "If our information is still in the commercial register it is because the owners of the company have not responded to our requests to modify it," he explains.
How Juan Vicente Roversi and his company managed to close the millionaire contract with Corpovex is something that can only be answered by the Venezuelan state-owned company chaired by the Major General of Aviation Giuseppe Yoffreda. However, the route followed by the company in the exchange is clear. In late October of last year, for example, MIR Importació i Exportació shipped eight containers with 12,768 CLAP boxes from the port of Manzanillo in Panama to La Guaira in the Venezuelan Caribbean. That is not the only way that Roversi has used with the Catalan company.
Like other intermediaries, like Group Grand Limited —a company registered in Hong Kong and that the dismissed Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega Díaz linked with Nicolás Maduro, Million Rise Industries Limited or J & B International Trading, the company in Sabadell also bought tons of food in Mexico that was later shipped and charged to the Venezuelan Government.
In early February of this year, for example, 11,128 CLAP boxes arrived in Veracruz from the port of La Guaira in eight containers shipped by MIR Importació i Exportació for the Venezuelan Government. The records of ImportGenius, a database specialized in international trade, reveal that the company began purchasing tons of food from Aztec suppliers, like Solo un Precio Servicios Inmobiliarios and La Cosmopolitana, since last year’s August. La Cosmopolitana also sold the CLAP boxes to Million Rise Industries Limited, another Hong Kong company that later resold the merchandise to Corpovex.
to the reports of Panjiva, another source of trade, apart from Panama and
Mexico, in last year’s October and November, the company registered in Sabadell
also shipped products from the Colombian ports of Buenaventura and Cartagena.
"Between 2017 and 2016, we quadrupled the amount of tons of food that we brought
to the people and we have attended an average of 6 million families," said
Nicolás Maduro in his recent celebration of the second anniversary of the CLAPs.
Although he did not offer more details on the figures, today, there is no doubt
about the magnitude of the business behind his idea of ??the CLAPs, particularly
Weeks ago, Freddy Bernal, Minister for Urban Agriculture and head of the CLAPs, said that in 2016, around 27 million food combos were traded, a figure that rocketed to 91 million a year later, 86 million of which were packed with imported products thanks to government intermediaries.
Such is the business behind these intermediations that Corpovex did not mind paying $ 3.3 more for the same CLAP provisions just within days. Thus, while MIR Importació i Exportació billed Corpovex $ 34.87 per box on October 30, 2017, twenty days before, J & B International Trading, registered in Miami, valued each pantry at $ 31.57 for the Venezuelan state-owned company. Other traders have also moved in a band from 34 to 39 dollars, which means that in 2017 alone, the Venezuelan Government could have spent 2,500 to 3,500 million dollars in the state program.
The volume of the business also clouded the Venezuelan authorities’ judgment, who offered Venezuelans for months at least eight Mexican brands of powdered milk that violated the nutritional standards imposed by national legislation. Despite being one of the most expensive products in CLAP boxes, it was, in fact, a paste low in protein and calcium, but high in carbohydrates and sodium, as demonstrated by the chemical analysis performed by the Institute of Science and Food Technology of Universidad Central de Venezuela, at the request of Armando.info.
To date, no one from the Government has referred to the issue or explained why choosing dummy intermediaries to execute the plan with which it intends to control the feeding of the most deprived people. Traders like MIR Importació i Exportació rub their hands. "To be a leading corporation in food and beverages, pharmacy products, personal hygiene and beauty, household cleaning products, both in Spain and in Latin American and Caribbean markets, where we will participate through strategic alliances that meet the expectations of our customers and associates," is stated on its website. With the CLAP business, it found the key to millions.
A small bank in Antigua and Barbuda, but controlled by Venezuelans, is at the center of some of the financial operations of Nicolas Maduro’s regime. Created in 2008 and with a diffuse trace for years, North International Bank began to take off in 2016 when it was authorized to operate in Caracas. Since then, it has been channeling millions of dollars to and from the coffers of the revolutionary ‘nomenklatura.’
For some months now, parliament members of different opposition political parties have been offering to make informal proceedings on request before agencies like the Colombian Attorney General's Office and the United States Department of the Treasury. They issue letters of good conduct to those responsible for negotiations on the imports for CLAP combos, so that such agencies absolve or stop investigating entrepreneurs like Carlos Lizcano, a subordinate of the already sanctioned Alex Saab and Alvaro Pulido. The fact that the most active defense of the main social program and focus of corruption of the government of Nicolas Maduro comes from the heart of the National Assembly 'in contempt' is just one of the ironies of this story.
Adrián Perdomo Mata has just entered the list of sanctioned entities of the US Department of the Treasury, as president of Minerven, the state company in charge of exploring, exporting and processing precious metals, particularly gold from the Guayana mines. His arrival in office coincided with the boom in exports of Venezuelan gold to new destinations, like Turkey, to finance food imports. Behind these secretive operations is the shadow of Alex Saab and Álvaro Pulido, the main beneficiaries of the sales of food for the Local Supply and Production Committee (Clap). Perdomo worked with them before Nicolás Maduro placed him in charge of the Venezuelan gold.
A study by Mexican authorities confirms what the palate of the Venezuelans quickly detected: There is something odd in the Mexican canned tuna that comes in the combos of the Local Supply and Production Committee (CLAP). At least three of the brands that the poorest homes have consumed in the country since March 2016, when the state plan was formalized, have high proportions of soy, a vegetable protein that although not harmful, it does not have the same taste and protein contribution of tuna. Behind the addition of soy there is an operation to reduce costs where all the intermediaries, handpicked by the Venezuelan Government to buy the goods, have participated.
Gassan Salama, a Palestinian-cause activist, born in Colombia and naturalized Panamanian, frequently posts messages supporting the Cuban and Bolivarian revolutions on his social media accounts. But that leaning is not the main sign to doubt his impartiality as an observer of the elections in Venezuela, a role he played in the contested elections whereby Nicolás Maduro ratified himself as president. In fact, Salama, an entrepreneur and politician who has carried out controversial searches for submarine wrecks in Caribbean waters, found his true treasure in the main social aid and control program of Chavismo, the Clap, for which he receives millions of euros.
While the key role of Colombian entrepreneurs Alex Saab Morán and Álvaro Pulido Vargas in the import scheme of Nicolás Maduro’s Government program has come to light, almost nothing has been said about the participation of the traders who act as suppliers from Mexico. These are economic groups that, even before doing business with Venezuela, were not alien to public controversy.
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.