Javier Bertucci: The Pastor who preaches as an Importer

The leader of the Maranatha Church in Venezuela is also an entrepreneur who has seen in the dynamics of the Venezuelan economy an opportunity to grow his private wealth. Without a clear purpose, according to the documentation of the law firm Mossack Fonseca, the pastor weighted up the possibility of chairing a company in a tax haven.

29 March 2016
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The air conditioning feels cool as soon as you enter the living room. The white plastic chairs are aligned. A group of young people test the sound and cameras, and the faithful of the Maranatha Church in Venezuela - the largest among others and with most followers in the country - begin to seat down. Some are focused on a reading; others just talk and catch up. At a glance, the room could hold about 300 people, but this time, it seems that it will not be filled. The main star, Pastor Javier Bertucci, will not be heading the ceremony today.

While the faithful sit down on the empty chairs, the band - made up of a young man on the electric drum, another on keyboards, a guitarist, two choristers, and a leading singer - plays the first chords of the song welcoming to the temple. On the three screens arranged in the room, the lyrics appear for the audience to sing along like in an Asian-style karaoke bar. I still believe that Christ is at my side. He will… He will give me the blessing. Everybody sing with euphoria and passion, clapping and crying at the same time.

Music and praises to Jesus continue for over half an hour. Suddenly, everything stops. In the screens that were showing the verses that the faithful were singing, a live broadcast began in the midst of the precariousness inherent to the Internet service in Venezuela, which offers the slowest connection speed in the continent. The public expects their main leader to speak, but another pastor comes forward. He is Freddy Armas, director of the confraternity of pastors of the state of Guárico. Armas says that he is tired because of all the work done in the region. He delivers parts of the Gospel and warns to those listening "enough of criticizing and judging Pastor Javier Bertucci". Everyone applauds and shout "Amen." Before leaving, Armas requests an offering. On the other side of the screen, an envelope with the logo of the Church is passed around to the attendees, and one by one, they put cash, checks and even transfer vouchers in it.

Pastor Javier Bertucci, referred to by Armas, is the leader of the Maranatha Church in Venezuela and director of El Evangelio Cambia (The Gospel Changes You), a Civil Association of a social nature, mainly formed by young people. It also has a television program that airs Monday through Friday, early in the morning, on two national television channels. But Bertucci is not dedicated to preaching the Gospel only. In Venezuela, he was accused of smuggling Diesel, as indicated in the file of the Supreme Court of Justice, and is now a member of the board of directors of at least three companies engaged in the production and sale of goods and services.

In the US state of Florida, Bertucci is the director of a medical equipment sales company. In addition, through the law firm Mossack Fonseca the pastor weighted up the possibility of being the president of a company valued at 5 million US dollars in a tax haven, according to a series of
e-mails sent to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung that were checked for this investigation.

Back to the Church and the live broadcast, it was Bertucci's turn. People listen to his stirring speech, a deep voice and an eloquence envied by any politician in the country. During the preaching, Bertucci stops the quotations to the Bible to refer to the meaning of the offerings and the money. As if trying to justify himself to those present, he enumerate all the activities of Evangelio Cambia, and closes by saying: "We are after something more than a handful of money. This offering was collected with absolute free will."

Envelop passed around during the service of the Maranatha Church requesting offerings

Over 370 Venezuelans have used Mossack Fonseca or considered the possibility of becoming its client. Based on the leaked e-mails, Bertucci wanted to chair Stockwin Enterprises Inc, a company created in Panama on January 3, 2012, with a capital of 5 million dollars, engaged in the purchase and sale of all kinds of inputs, but especially in the importation of raw materials for the food industry.

However, Desiré Obadia, an intermediary client of the company and the person in charge of negotiating with Mossack Fosseca, denies that the transaction has ever been completed. "Pastor Bertucci wanted to be in my company to use it to import meat and sell it to his national company. But you need to get import license and dollars from Cadivi (National Foreign Exchange Administration Commission, the entity created by the Venezuelan state in 2003 to administer currencies) to import. Both things were never achieved. If you bring food at a free-market dollar, no God will buy it," explained Obadia.

Armando.info tried to contact Javier Bertucci on several occasions, but to the publication of the report, no response was received. Five days after the story came to light, Bertucci reacted through a statement explaining that "the participation in Stockwin Enterprises Inc to import meat products was considered in order to ensure a transparent process and proper distribution in communities of scarce resources nationwide through the “Days of Social Action” developed by The Gospel Changes. It is worth mentioning that the initiative did not materialize and that I do not have the resources to own accounts in tax havens."

From Pastor to Entrepreneur

Javier Bertucci was born in Guanare, state of Portuguesa, in western Venezuela. He was raised by his grandparents, and has humble origin. From a very young age, since he grew up in the Venezuelan plains and because of his family influence, he was involved in cultivation lands. His first steps as a pastor began in Tinaquillo. Then, he moved to Valencia where he founded the Maranatha Church in Venezuela and later on the association of The Gospel Changes. He is married to Rebeca Barrios, also a pastor, and they have three children. His family and his wife’s are both involved -in one way or another- with the Church. Rebeca and Javier are called "mommy" and "daddy" by their followers. And in their social networks they show to be a united, affectionate family and, above all, devoted to Jesus. However, the other family businesses are not mentioned.

Bertucci is, along with his preaching, an entrepreneur, a facet that he developed after becoming a pastor in 1999. He is involved in the construction business in the country. He owns Construction Company Constructora Bertucci C.A, shares the company's management with his brother-in-law and pastor, Francisco Barrios, and is located in San Diego, state of Carabobo, in central Venezuela. According to the National Registry of Contractors, the National Glass Corporation C.A. and the Maranatha Foundation itself appear among its clients. Therefore, if there is a problem of masonry in the headquarters of the Church, the construction company takes over.

He also appears as director of company Biometrix-Med Equipment Corp, created in June 2013 with headquarters in Florida, engaged in buying and selling goods and services. He runs this company with Nicolás E. Aular, a Venezuelan businessman, president of the business companies Gallery Aviation INC and Luxury Auto Sales USA INC, who was detained in 1998 and involved - according to the newspaper Notitarde published at the time - in a case of trading imported vehicles "of doubtful origin" in Venezuelan territory.

In an official statement, after the publication of the report, Bertucci denied any connection with the company in Florida. "The participation never materialized. It was aimed to be used to acquire a series of second-hand dialysis equipment to import it from the United States of America to Venezuela and then refurbish it. After being repaired, it would be donated to the communities for the use of patients suffering from kidney diseases in general," says the Pastor.

According to the records of Import Genius, one of the largest port traffic databases in the world, Bertucci has imported products from the United States of America to Venezuela. The last import registered in his name was made in January 2015, when he received the manufacture of ceramics in Puerto Cabello by Port Everglades vessel. Previously, he had imported microwave ovens, blenders, furniture, taps or faucets for domestic use, refrigerator units, among others.

Bertucci is also connected with the oil industry in Venezuela. He is the representative of company Mining Hg 2.8 in charge of selling diluent for the mixture of hydrocarbons to companies like Recicpetrol C.A., which offers all kinds of petrochemical and metallurgical industry-related jobs. He also chaired company Tecnopetrol C.A., engaged in selling and exporting sulfonic residual and solvent chemical products. This business is now in the process of decapitalization and disable to enter into contracts for the Venezuelan Government. In 2010, the pastor was charged and prosecuted as a representative of Tecnopetrol C.A. for aggravated smuggling and criminal association.

The Stone on the Road

On July 2, 2010 the Venezuelan authorities prevented an export of Tecnopetrol C.A. There were five thousand metric tons of the chemical called Tecsol, a base solvent to prepare degreaser and paint removers. The authorities claimed that they had determined through chemical analysis that the alleged solvent was in fact national Diesel, the private export of which is illegal. The merchandise would arrive from Puerto Cabello in Venezuela to the Port of Baraona in the Dominican Republic, as stated in file GP01-R-2010-000234.

On that same day, Javier Bertucci was arrested and later charged with aggravated smuggling and criminal association, considering what he did as an event "to the detriment of the Venezuelan State." On July 4, 2010, he was imposed house arrest and on September 30 of that same year, he was granted a permit to leave his residence only to give his preaching in the Maranatha Church.

Finally, on December 20, 2010, the court decided that he should appear periodically and issued a measure prohibiting him to leave the country. To date, the Supreme Court of Justice has no record of a final judgment on this case.

As soon as his house arrest was removed, Bertucci broke the news to the faithful of his congregation in a transmission. "Despite the persecution of the enemies of the kingdom, God prevailed," he said. He thanked them for their support and concluded: "This is not only the beginning of my freedom, which we already have, but the beginning of what God is going to do for this country."

The Show must Go On

The Maranatha World Revival Ministry was founded by Nahum Rosario in 1974, in the city of Chicago in the United States of America. The Church extended to Mexico, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Chile, Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, Norway, and Venezuela. The Church is currently chaired in the country by Bertucci and has more than 16 thousand followers. The main headquarters are in Valencia, state of Carabobo, but it also has one in Caracas, and different affiliates nationwide congregate by connecting to the meetings through the Internet.

Bertucci was not satisfied with the Maranatha Church alone. In 2007, he gave life to the association El Evangelio Cambia (The Gospel Changes), which already has over 100,000 volunteers in Venezuela, mostly young people, who are considered "revolutionaries" of Jesus. They dress in camouflage commando pants, white shirt with the logo of the association and go out to preach the Gospel. They perform scenic arts, health and social action days. In March, during the scandal of the missing miners in Tumeremo, in southern Venezuela, The Gospel Changes was the only Christian group distributing food to relatives and other villagers.

Merchandise related to The Gospel Changes for sale in Maranatha churches

When some of his followers are asked about Bertucci's business facet, the answer is always the same: "He is a humble person. Everything he does is always aimed to give to others. "In spite of the scandal with the smuggling of Diesel, the companies in his name and the critics in the social media regarding the appropriate use of the tithes, every Sunday its followers of all the corners of the country meet, with the same passion and euphoria, to listen to it and to praise Christ to the rhythm of music.

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