Last Stroke to Rescue 410 Million Dollars

Venezuelan Álvaro Gorrín escaped on his yacht in 2009 after the intervention of Banco Canarias, but he and his board members did not resign themselves to losing everything to the Venezuelan government. Between the support of an influential New York law firm and the expertise of Appleby to create companies in tax havens, the then fugitive from the Venezuelan justice drew a strategy to rescue something from the ruins.

12 November 2017

Álvaro Gorrín knew what was coming. The president of Banco Canarias was accused of appropriating the funds of his savers and criminal association shortly after the government of Hugo Chávez ordered in November 2009 the intervention of eight banks accused of irregularly managing their funds. The urban legend says that he left Venezuela on board his yacht and ended up on the US coasts just before he was issued a prohibition to leave the country.

Months later, the government ordered the intervention of Credican, another commercial company of Gorrín, much less known, which he did not liquidate immediately, as he did with Banco Canarias, which was financially buried just a month after its intervention. Months passed and Credican, although intervened, was still standing, which meant for Gorrín and his associates the opportunity to rescue at least some of what was trapped in the way of doing business in Venezuela, Lehman notes - or Lehman bonds - transferred to Credican by Banco Canarias valued at 410 million dollars.

Banco Canarias, which was financially buried just a month after its intervention.

The move was ambitious, it required planning and could not be a legal initiative by Gorrín personally or Credican, as they were accused and sunk in legal problems with the Venezuelan government. Meanwhile, the former banker, his business acumen and with his son as a partner, proved the path of other investments and thus opened company Don Pan in the state of Florida, which opened at least 20 branches in less than three years to please the growing public of Venezuelan migrants in their search for the perfect baguette or cachito de jamón (a croissant-like bread filled with minced ham) that they used to find in the streets of Caracas, or Maracaibo, or Valencia.

It was then that Gorrín, contracting the services of Appleby and the support of contacts in the New York Chadbourne & Parke law firm, could create company Smith Rocke Ltd. on March 1, 2012, and registered it in the British Virgin Islands. The leak of documents that make up the Paradise Papers accounts that Appleby showed concern about the Gorrín’s unfinished business with the Venezuelan justice, but soon dismissed the matter when Chadbourne & Parke assure him that the banker is free of problems.

"Regarding the criminal investigation and extradition procedure mentioned in your email, Alvaro Gorrín, like many influential businessmen in Venezuela, was the subject of several attacks on his reputation motivated by political reasons. These actions are intended to harass and obstruct the ordinary course of any negotiation. As far as we know, both the criminal investigation and the extradition are no longer in process," says the email.

Another letter, signed by Clara Krivoy, an international partner of the New York law firm took in November 2011 a step forward in defense of Gorrín: "I have known Alvaro Gorrín for more than two years, and the nature of our relationship is professional. During that time, I have formed the opinion that the client is respectable and reliable in his affairs, financially stable, and I have no reason to suspect otherwise."

Based on these credentials, and even when Gorrín was later imprisoned in Caracas in November 2014, Appleby contributed to the creation of Smith Rocke Ltd., which proceeds in January 2014 to sue the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela before the Southern District Court of New York. With the action, it intends to claim the Lehman notes that remained as part of Credican properties at the time of being intervened by the Chávez government.

Upon filing the lawsuit, Smith Rocke affirms having bought Credican shares and therefore, it has a legitimate interest in its properties, including the Lehman bonds, which it says have a value of 410 million dollars. However, that purchase or transfer of shares of Credican to Smith Rocke, created in 2012, raised many questions. How could Credican make this transfer if it had been intervened since 2010 and was managed by an intervening board appointed by the Venezuelan Superintendency of Banks? Who allowed that transfer or sale?

In fact, other Appleby leaks show Smith Rocke Ltd. as part of Credican, as well as a company called Akamai Globan Inc., created on the same day as Smith Rocke, and among its shareholders is Rafael González Yanes, who had also been president of Banco Canarias, and one of its vice presidents, Manuel Herrera Castilla.

In the summary of the lawsuit, Judge Lorna Schofield claims that Credican intervening board requested the bankruptcy management office of Lehman Brothers (LBHI Bankrupcy) to dismiss any claim by the company's shareholders, as the company was intervened by the Venezuelan government. "In effect, preventing Smith Rocke from getting any payment for the Lehman notes," the judge wrote.

So while a portion of Credican's board of directors allowed the sale of shares to Smith Rocke, other members of that board warned the Lehman bankruptcy office not to pay the shareholders? Who wanted to help Gorrín and who did not?

Based on the summary of the lawsuit published by the New York court, Venezuelan Rafael José Moreno Franco and Rosa María Jimenez Urrutia were the agents appointed by Sudeban as administrators of Credican. We tried to contact them without success yet.

While these questions remain about the performance of Credican's intervening board, the New York court dismissed Smith Rocke's claim with the final aim of collecting the Lehman notes as it is a matter outside its jurisdiction. The last stroke of Gorrín to rescue some "ashes" of 410 million dollars was drowned in the organization of a company for which it could have obtained aid from the same ones that expropriated it in Venezuela.

After this event, Álvaro Gorrín dared to return to Caracas in late 2014, shortly after Sudeban ordered the liquidation of Credican in April of that year by resolution 066.14 published in the Official Gazette. He was then arrested in a restaurant in the capital and held in the Bolivarian Intelligence Service until March 2015, when the court that judges him for the misappropriation of the resources of Banco Canarias savers decided to proceed with his trial in freedom.

(*) This note is part of the Paradise Papers project. This project analyzed 13.4 million documents from two offshore service providers, Appleby (Bermuda) and Asiaciti Trust (Hong Kong), and business records of 19 tax havens, obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung due to a leak that it shared through the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ, Washington) with 382 journalists from 96 media in 67 countries. In Venezuela, the project partner is Armando.info, which made an alliance to publish it with the newspaper El Nacional.

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