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.
They lose their freedom as soon as they set foot on any Trinidadian beach, and their “original sin” is an alleged debt that these women can only pay by becoming sexual merchandise. They are tamed through a prior process of torture, rotation and terror, until they lose the urge to escape. The growth of these human trafficking networks is so evident that regional and parliamentary reports admit that the complicity of the island’s justice system in this machinery of deceit and violence multiplies the number of victims.
Under Hugo Chávez, two women represented Venezuela in dealings with China to obtain project finance: banker Edmée Betancourt and diplomat Rocío Maneiro. These are their stories.
Scarcely a third of the planned 468-kilometre stretch of railway from Tinaco to Anaco that drew on US$2.74 billion from the Venezuelan-Chinese Joint Fund has been built. Labour and environmental conflicts lie in its wake.
In 2010, Beijing asked for an office in Caracas to oversee joint projects. Today, it lies in disrepair, so what happened to the U$164 million earmarked for refurbishment?
Venezuela sought to build an appliance factory to manufacture white goods for all homes by 2025. It ended up importing them from the factory funder itself: China’s Haier.
Beijing sold Hugo Chávez's government eight military transport aircrafts in 2011. In the shady deal, exchange rate manipulation and a wide margin left for the payment of extras meant each aircraft’s cost was unknown.
A collaborative journalism project on the economic and political relationship between Venezuela and China, patched together from official documents.
China wired US$1 billion to Hugo Chávez's government and tied it to the sale of an astronomical amount of iron ore, as debt grew and ambitious projects never materialised
In front of the curtain of collapse of the major financial group in Portugal, José Trinidad Márquez, a native of Caracas, offered the stellar performance to his lifetime career of fraud. After swindling the high management of the bank, he’s taken refuge presumably in some part of Spain, where the press baptized him as “the golden middleman” or “the man with thousand faces”. With his well trained routine of a petroleum expert, who offers himself to try and arrange business connections with PDVSA, perfected over the course of more than two decades, he’s earned himself millions of dollars, as well as criminal accusations in various countries.
A Venezuelan executive jet, listed as suspicious by the United States, landing in a remote African capital… A group of passengers that includes special operations agents and stay in a military barracks… A mysterious Russian transport plane… A ship anchored by a paradise island… These are the wicks used in recent days to woven a web that is at par with a spy series. The mission was to assess the likelihood of rescuing Colombian businessman and alleged front man for Nicolas Maduro from his imprisonment in the neighboring Cape Verde archipelago, before his extradition to the United States. This happened just a month after his arrest.
With ridiculous fines and a brief freezing of accounts, Mexican authorities said they had sanctioned in 2018 the companies of that country that participated in the million-dollar scheme that supplied products to Clap boxes, including those that sold milk powder of poor nutritional quality. With Alex Saab - architect and head of these operations- arrested in Cape Verde three weeks ago, the irregularities of an investigation that seemed to have done justice in Mexico begin to be revealed. In the end, it was a punishment that neither hurt nor compensated anyone.
An important ‘cold case' of high finance under Chavism can finally be solved thanks to the revelations arising out of the recent intervention in Curacao of Banco del Orinoco N.V., one of the jewels of the financial empire of the tycoon from Barinas ―the failed purchase in 2015 of Televen, one of the main private TV channels [in Venezuela]. This risky adventure left Vargas owing money to a somewhat questionable creditor. After delays and pressure, the banker had to dip into the turnover of his oil companies to get out of the difficulty.
Nicolas Maduro’s main contractor was arrested last Friday, right after landing at the international airport of Cape Verde, an archipelago in the Atlantic, on the gates of Africa. It may be his penultimate trip, if he is finally deported or extradited to the United States, as U.S. authorities expect. It would be the worst of all endings after many years travelling and earning miles but, above all, millions of dollars thanks to opaque corporate structures, whereby he managed preferential currencies, public works, food supplies for the CLAPs, contracts with PDVSA, and even the trade of Venezuelan gold and coal since 2013.
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.
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.
Six out of every ten Venezuelan sex workers killed abroad since 2012 were in Mexico. In that country it is often about attractive girls who work as high-level company ladies or night-time waiters, businesses directly managed by organized crime. There are many clues that lead to the Guadalajara New Generation Cartel at the peak of this trade in people, with the complicity of others such as Los Cuinis and Tepito. Often the human merchandise becomes the property of capos and assassins, with whom he knows the hell of the femicides
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.
Every Venezuelan court must be made up by a judge, a secretary and a bailiff. One of the members of this tripod, as to the court in charge of the case of the Justice First party deputy, is usurping functions since he does not meet the requirements to hold the position. That automatically invalidates that instance. This is the most recent legal irregularity in this case, where not all officials sign their acts, lawyers do not know the file, and the Constitution has been openly violated.
Multiple indications suggest that Colombian entrepreneur Alex Saab, one of the largest suppliers of the food programs of the Government of Nicolás Maduro and target of the police investigations of several countries, participates in the opaque exchange of precious metals for consumer goods established between Venezuela and Turkey. The new president of the state company Minerven being a former employee of his, is just one of the clues.
Even though there are new brands, a new physical-chemical analysis requested by Armando.Info to UCV researchers shows that the milk powder currently distributed through the Venezuelan Government's food aid program, still has poor nutritional performance that jeopardizes the health of those who consume it. In the meantime, a mysterious supplier manages to monopolize the increasing imports and sales from Mexico to Venezuela.