In 2013, Maduro or Capriles made (almost) no difference to Odebrecht

New leaks of the "award-winning delation" that the construction company's proconsul in Caracas, Euzenando Azevedo, made to Brazilian justice last December reveal that in the elections to choose the successor to the late commander Hugo Chávez, Odebrecht made a Solomonic decision: to reach an understanding with the candidates of the Government and the Opposition and make contributions to the campaigns of both. It would not be on an equal footing: one was given $35 million, the other $15 million. But with the same consideration for both: that the public works contracts in charge of the multinational engineering company had to be respected.

30 July 2017

Today's president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, received $35 million dollars from Brazilian construction company Odebrecht for his 2013 election campaign. In March of that year, the maximum leader of the self-proclaimed Bolivarian Revolution, Hugo Chávez, had died of cancer. Maduro, Chávez's former minister of foreign affairs, had to face presidential elections just a month later, although in some ways anticipated, because the commander himself had designated him as his successor in a speech on television - his last public act - on December 8, 2012. Despite the chieftain's explicit endorsement, Maduro had to struggle to win a tight victory in the April 2013 presidential election, according to official figures, with only 1% of the votes ahead of his opponent, opposition candidate and Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles Radonski.

Odebrecht's contribution to the pro-government campaign was already known from the depositions of Brazilian publicist Joao Santana and his wife, Marina Moura, before judicial authorities investigating the Lava Jato scandal, the scheme of bribes and commissions that the national civil engineering companies, with Odebrecht at the helm, created to ensure their participation in major infrastructure and public works projects. It is a scheme that these corporations exported to other countries as they developed an international expansion of their businesses that ran in parallel with the projection of the political influence of Brazil and the government of Inácio Lula Da Silva towards large regions of Latin America and Africa, especially.

Santana and Moura, who advised Maduro's 2013 campaign, had revealed that Odebrecht paid at least seven of the $35 million of its bill.

But now new and more precise details of the relationship arise.

Odebrecht's Executive Director in Venezuela, Euzenando Azevedo, presented a sworn statement last December 15 at the Attorney General's office in the state of Sergipe, on Brazil's northeastern coast. The powerful former Odebrecht representative in Caracas took advantage of the figure of "rewarded delations" established by Brazilian law, which has allowed the Brazilian authorities to investigate the corruption scheme of the so-called Lava Jato case, through protected witnesses who confess in exchange for procedural benefits. So far 78 people, including top executives of the companies involved and their respective financial operators -the so-called doleiros- have preferred to offer their testimonies in these conditions.

From Azevedo's account, presented to the prosecutors Heitor Alves Soares and Leonardo Cervino Martinelli, and in the company of his lawyers, Carla Domenico and Sergio Ferraz de Campos, some endorsements have just leaked to the press and feed this report. This testimony implies simultaneously, by paradox or irony, both adversaries of the disputed electoral campaign of 2013, Nicolás Maduro and Henrique Capriles Radonski. 

50 millions 'in their pockets'

There is no doubt that Maduro arrived at the Miraflores presidential palace in 2013 with the decisive support from Odebrecht. In return for the money, the now president would have guaranteed the company the same favorable conditions that it already enjoyed with his predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chávez.

To this end, Maduro never met in person with the Brazilians. He relied on the intermediation of the then-coordinator of his electoral campaign, Américo Mata, who, on behalf of the Venezuelan government, asked for 50 million dollars to guarantee the construction company the updating of payments - which in Venezuela can be easily delayed by the delinquency of the State or by the procedures of approval of foreign currency necessary to overcome the exchange control regime - and the participation in future contracts of works.

Mata's meetings with Azevedo, three of them, were held at the Gourmet Market in El Rosal, one of the few trendy cafés that have survived the crisis in Venezuela, a favorite of models and businessmen, close to Caracas's financial district, El Rosal, and Odebrecht's office. On behalf of Odebrecht, Azevedo pledged to cancel 35 of the 50 million dollars he was being asked to close a deal.

The then interlocutor of Azevedo and emissary of Maduro, Américo Mata, is a transversal piece in the chavismo gear, that has been climbing steps along the former deputy, several times minister and even former vice president of the Republic, Elías Jaua, who for these recent days presided over the commission promoting the controversial National Constituent Assembly that the government intends to install.

Américo Mata has held various positions of trust in the public administration, from the Vice-Minister of Agricultural Economy to the extinct National Foreign Currency Administration Commission (Cadivi), passing through Hidrocapital, the National Institute of Socialist Educational Cooperation (Inces) and the National Corporation "Barrio Nuevo, Barrio Tricolor". 

In 2015, Mata succeeded its direct sponsor, Elías Jaua, as president of the Development Corporation of the Tuy Miranda River Basin, Corpomiranda. This is an ad-hoc entity created by the chavismo from the central government to eclipse the Governor of that province, Capriles Radonski. Jaua worked in this kind of parallel governorship of Miranda - the state from which he received the unofficial title of Protector- as president of Corpomiranda until 2015, when he left the office to run as a candidate for the National Assembly and bequeathed it to his pupil, Américo Mata.

"I asked him that, in case that the candidate would win, he should keep our works as a priority in his government"

Even before that, Mata had accompanied Jaua - who became the sector's minister - during his tenure as head of the agriculture and food organisms. It was at the National Institute of Rural Development (Inder) where Mata met Euzenando Azevedo and other representatives of Odebrecht, a company that was in charge of projects in the agricultural sector such as the 35,000 hectares project on the southern plains of the state of Anzoátegui (eastern Venezuela), the Integral Socialist Agrarian Project José Inácio de Abreu e Lima, a utopian agricultural city for 500 peasant families, still unfinished.

With a budget of at least 640 million dollars, the agricultural project is now halfway through. But from those years Mata kept - at least - the key names of the Brazilian construction giant. "All the companies are going to help and you, who are one of the big ones, must give 50 million", Mata dared to ask Azevedo, which he agreed, but not before setting out certain conditions.

Azevedo's concern is that despite the continuity, Maduro could have other interests

"I asked him that, in case that the candidate would win, he should keep our works as a priority in his government", said Azevedo, "because they were contracts from the previous administration, from President Chávez, and despite continuity, he (Maduro) could have other interests".

He did not specify details of the bank transfers he then had to order. He only said that the so-called Structured Operations Department - a euphemism they found in Odebrecht to name their bribery and commissions unit - issued deposits before, during and after the election - between March and June 2013 - on behalf of several offshore companies provided by the same official Américo Mata.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=QJPLQZfj8L0

Via these channels, the pro-government campaign received contributions from Odebrecht. The route not only circumvented the controls established by the regime since 2003 with exchange control and the subsequent Law on Foreign Exchange Crime, which has been reformed several times, but has always requested to declare before the Central Bank and convert any foreign currency at the official rate. He also avoided what is stipulated in the Law on Electoral Processes, which in its article 75 expressly prohibits electoral propaganda "financed with funds of foreign origin".

The intermediary for the Venezuelan government, Américo Mata, was contacted via phone-call to the same telephone number that he used to answer the media. However, the communication ended immediately after mentioning the word Odebrecht, and could not be reinstated.

Parallel Friendships

But at the same time, something without precedent was happening. Perhaps by measuring with insightfulness the change of wind direction in the Venezuelan electoral climate, Odebrecht also decided to put some chips in the box of the opposition candidate.

In May, the Brazilian magazine Valor Económico gave a surprise, warning that the construction company had already supported Henrique Capriles Radonski in the campaign of October 2012, in which he faced a terminally ill Chávez and lost. Something similar, but without details, had appeared in January in The Wall Street Journal.

Now a new collection of unpublished documents - leaked for this report - show that the corporation gave the following year, to face Maduro, an even more determined support for Capriles Radonski's campaign.

"For me it is an honor to be served by the President of the Republic"

After Chávez's death and with the not so clear polls, the Brazilian construction giant bet with a contribution - simultaneously to the 35 million that were donated to Maduro - of 15 million dollars that were deposited abroad, according to the testimony of Azevedo.

Azevedo affirms that, as a regard, Capriles himself invited him to his home one night, a few days before that decisive April 14 when Maduro was declared victor. The viceroy of Odebrecht in Venezuela was surprised that the candidate himself went to the kitchen to serve him a glass of water. "For me it is an honor to be served by the President of the Republic", Azevedo replied, a diplomat and a bit flattering, in an anecdote that makes him smile even under the rigor of judicial interrogations.

"I never dealt with him directly about any financial aid, but it was inferred that I had helped"

That night Capriles guaranteed that Odebrecht would stay in Venezuela after the Chavismo. "I never dealt with him directly about any financial aid, but it was inferred that I had helped, and in a very affectionate way, he thanked me and emphasized that if he won he would not take any action against the contracts", said Azevedo.

In contrast to the current scandal, when the Odebrecht brand has been reserved throughout the world and in all languages ??is synonymous with corruption, by the time the name showed a halo of success in globalization. The corporate representatives found more risky and uphill to explain to the Chavismo the reasons for a photo with their contender, than to the leader of an opposition eager for votes and financing mechanisms to do the same exercise with their electoral clientele.

It should not be forgotten that during those days Capriles expressed in public his admiration for the development model implemented in Brazil by Lula and the Workers Party (PT), something that should have made it easier for him to reach one of the symbols of the international expansion of the "Lulismo", but which brought him not a few controversies with his most radical opposition allies.

"as I told you last time, if I won, the works are a priority, I will continue with the works, don't worry about it"

The echo of the so-called "Lava Jato operation" shows that beyond corruption, bribery and overpricing, Brazil's construction companies were also concerned about supporting even the electoral campaigns of the weak. But it wasn't a simple act of justice or pity for the underdogs: the Brazilians sought to ensure that no political upheaval took them out of the game.

In the previous election, they had transferred to the campaign of the Venezuelan opposition candidate, about two million dollars through companies registered in tax havens, according to the testimony of Azevedo. He and Capriles had met in 2012 through a Venezuelan builder named Benito Rodríguez, whose company was subcontracted by Odebrecht. The candidate then assured that he would respect the existing contracts.

"Once again I decided to help Capriles, and it was an aid without much bureaucracy", commented Azevedo about the 2013 campaign. "I had a meeting with the candidate again, reinforcing with him our concern that if he won he would not harm our interests, and he insisted that yes: 'as I told you last time, if I won, the works are a priority, I will continue with the works, don't worry about it'".

Reached via direct message to his Twitter account, Capriles offered to grant an interview that, however, there was no time to do. In the same message, however, the Governor of Miranda also announced that he had already spoken "to the point of exhaustion" on the matter of Odebrecht's alleged contributions to its campaign.

"Now it turns out that while the corrupt government signed contracts for millions with Odebrecht, they accuse me"

For example, in January -as a result of the first revelations in The Wall Street Journal- Capriles, who in those days was also summoned by the Comptroller General of the Republic, loyal to Chavismo, complained in his Twitter account: "Now it turns out that while the corrupt government signed contracts for millions with Odebrecht, they accuse me". Then, in response to insinuations made by President Maduro himself in a televised speech, Capriles challenged the government to open "real investigations" on Odebrecht's actions in Venezuela. 

A thousand friends for bribes

Odebrecht's approach to any government began with the electoral campaign. It was a support for the leader and the political party, which then opened other doors. This was stated this week by Brazilian lawyer, Rodrigo Tacla, who was part of the company's Structured Operations Department. "The first contact was established in the electoral campaign", he said this week from Spain in an interview with journalists José María Irujo and Joaquín Gil for El País newspaper. "Odebrecht paid for the candidates' political marketing expenses".

"The construction company bribed more than 1,000 people in the world"

Tacla even reported parties with prostitutes imported from Brazil for special occasions in Panama and the Dominican Republic. "The construction company bribed more than 1,000 people in the world", he said, although he assured he did not fully know the Venezuelan case. Last December, Odebrecht admitted to the U.S. Department of Justice - which imposed a fine - the payment of almost $100 million in bribes in Venezuela between 2009 and 2014, making it the second country - only behind Brazil itself - where the construction company distributed the largest irregular incentives to state authorities and officials.

Maduro's name had already showed up in the aforementioned declarations of Santana and Moura. The current president, then chancellor, took out of his office eleven million dollars in cash. "Maduro received Monica (the publicist Mónica Moura) in his office, she handed him briefcases full of money and provided him an escort to safely travel from the Chancellor's Office to the Producer", point out documents declassified by the Brazilian Supreme Court.

For the time being, however, the Venezuelan president has chosen to avoid the issue. It is known that the Attorney General's Office, now the president's political rival, is conducting some investigations.

(*) This report is a conjoint work of research carried out by IDL-Reporteros' Red de Investigaciones Periodísticas Estructuradas in Peru (Structured Journalistic Investigations Network), La Prensa in Panama, La Nación in Argentina and Armando.info in Venezuela.

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