The paradisiacal tourist island of the Venezuelan Caribbean became, shortly after the death of President Hugo Chávez, in the place of a plot linked to tax havens. A leader of the far-left coalition Syriza and today powerful minister of the Greek Government, together with a Cypriot lawyer specializing in offshore business, who appeared in the Panama Papers traveled to the island. Nobody known with whom did they meet, but it is known that they completed their mysterious odyssey aboard a private jet of Majed Khalil, an entrepreneur linked to the Caracas regime.
Besieged since his coming to power in 2015 due to the burden of external debt and his firmness with the European Union, the Greek Government of Syriza (Greek acronym for Radical Left Coalition), led by the premier Alexis Tsipras, may have another flank to worry about, his relations with Venezuela.
Syriza has never hidden its ideological agreement with the ruling Chavism in the South American nation. Tsipras, who was then the leader of the Greek opposition, attended the funeral of revolutionary commander Hugo Chávez Frías, held in March 2013, in Caracas. In October 2016, however, a revelation brought to the public's attention another side of these transatlantic links. Then it was learned that in August 2013, shortly after the visit of Tsipras, a powerful operator of Syriza, Nikos Pappas, current Minister of State in the Hellenic Cabinet, had also traveled to Venezuela in a virtually secret visit, accompanied by a Cypriot lawyer specialized in offshore business structures, Artemis Artemiou.
Then, a version published in April 2017 by the Athenian newspaper Eléftheros Typos (Free Press, in Greek), revealed that the destination of the August 2013 trip of Pappas and Artemiou was the tourist island of Margarita, in the Venezuelan Caribbean Sea. The passengers arrived aboard a private jet of Majed Khalil Majzoub, a Lebanese-Venezuelan entrepreneur linked to the hierarchy of Nicolás Maduro's government in Caracas. The travelers stayed at the luxurious Ikin Margarita hotel in Playa Cardón, on the east coast of the island.
Months earlier, the same publication had verified that Artemis Artemiou, the Cypriot lawyer, had visited the Maximus Mansion, seat of the Greek Executive, at least once. What could a business expert in tax havens be doing by frequenting Prime Minister Tsipras's office and traveled with a powerful cabinet minister?
At the first sign of trouble, Minister Pappas admitted in October 2016 that he had visited Venezuela in 2013, but he failed to mention Artemiou, the lawyer expert in offshore structures, as his potential companion. He only said that "other members of Syriza" had also participated.
According to Pappas, his trip to the South American country was not irregular because, in any case, by the time he traveled, he was not yet a public official. He assured that the purpose of the visit had been to establish initial contacts for a possible visit of Alexis Tsipras to Caracas -where he had already been five months earlier- and to explore the possibility of buying agricultural products in Venezuela ?maybe a nonsense, given the chronic shortage of food and other supplies of the basic basket already palpable in the dawn of the presidency of Nicolás Maduro-.
But the revelation that Pappas's trip to Margarita had been made with Artemiou and aboard a plane of Khalil, gave a new dimension to the matter. The main opposition party, the social democratic New Democracy, resumed its requests to open a parliamentary investigation into the matter and for Pappas and Prime Minister Tsipras to appear to provide explanations to the congressmen.
Majed Khalil, together with his older brother, Khaled, have built an industrial and commercial emporium in Venezuela in the shadow of the Bolivarian regime established since 1999 in the country. They are considered close to Chavism, in particular to the god of their leaders, Diosdado Cabello Rondón, current president of the National Constituent Assembly, and Jorge Rodríguez Gómez, minister of Information and Communication.
At least one of them, Majed, was stripped of his US visa in 2004 on suspicion of money laundering, according to the Miami Herald newspaper. The sanction was imposed despite the fact that, by then, one of Khalil’s company, Hardwell Computer Inc, represented Raytheon in Venezuela. That was an American company for which he had obtained the juicy contract to replace the radar system of the Simón Bolívar International Airport in Maiquetía, at the service of the city of Caracas.
The group of the Khalil brothers includes from technological to food, tourism or urban cleaning companies. It has companies in Panama and, as evidenced in the files of the Mossack Fonseca law firm - the leakage of which gave rise to the so-called Panama Papers -, at least until 2006, it paid the maintenance fees of two companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, Henvale Holdings Ltd and Vadin Services S.A., from a Majed Khalil account in the Premier Bank International of Curaçao.
In 2014, the General Prosecutor’s Office opened investigations into allegations of foreign exchange crimes against seven companies that included Majed Khalil as shareholder: Hardwell Computer Inc, Corporación Meditech, KM Logistic, Santa Mónica Cotton Trading Company, Qualcomm Telesistemas, Cobijas Josdo, Pacific Rim Energy, Importadora DYFCA, Grupo DJML, Importadora Paquito, Administradora Servimeta, and Productos Piscícolas Propisca. Almost simultaneously, the Public Prosecutor also opened investigations for alleged "illegal acquisition of foreign currency" against Yatritonic C.A., a company of Khaled Khalil. Already in 2012, the office of the then Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Díaz had made inquiries about another family business, Hornos Eléctricos de Venezuela S.A. (Hevensa). In no case did the proceedings find indications of crimes.
Another of the Khalils’ connections reported by the Greek newspaper became evident in November 2015. At that time, members of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) arrested during a black operation in Haiti two nephews of the First Venezuelan Lady, Cilia Flores, who were trying to complete in that Caribbean nation the sale of a cocaine shipment. Franqui Francisco Flores and Efraín Campos ?who would be sentenced to 18-year imprisonment by a New York court?, were traveling on a plane of the Venezuelan garbage collection company Sabenpe, the board of directors of which includes Khaled Khalil Maizoub, as alternate director.
lawyer Artemis Artemiou - one of the travelers to Margarita and a visitor at the
office of the Greek prime minister - was exposed to public scrutiny in April
2016, when his name appeared on the so-called Panama Papers. The portal
Protagon.gr identified three companies registered in the tax haven of the
British Virgin Islands, based in Cyprus, which Artemiou was linked to,
apparently, only as an intermediary through his law firm, Artemiou, Pieri &
Associates: Pizzazz Limited, Avgi, and Elazzoulian Limited. The companies were
managed on behalf of third parties that "are not Politically Exposed Persons
(PEP) neither in Cyprus nor in Greece," Artemiou assured in a written statement,
in which he also said that the publication was an attempt to "link my
professional activities with the political events in Greece." He minimized the
claims saying that he only had connection with three out of the 7,000 Cypriot
companies that appeared on the Panama Papers.
However, a new set of almost 1.3 million documents leaked from the now defunct Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, received by the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper of Munich, Germany, and processed and coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) as the Panama Papers 2 project, provides a new and more comprehensive perspective about the link of the Cypriot lawyer with the companies.
As reported from Athens by reporter Harry Karanikas, of the Protagon.gr site, documents included in the new filtration allow to determine that in 2017, Artemiou was still the End Beneficiary and not only the intermediary or administrator of two of the companies that appear on the Panama Papers. Why did he lie in his last statement, where he insisted that these companies had been incorporated on behalf of third parties?
The files also reveal that in April 2017, Artemiou had asked Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm, to dissolve one of those companies, Pizzazz Limited, just at the same time that Greece learned about the trip of the lawyer and the future minister, Nikos Pappas, in an airplane of the Lebanon-Venezuelan entrepreneur, Majed Khalil.
Furthermore, Artemiou reports in a communication that he had offered consulting services through Pizzazz Limited, including, among others, a market study for a fertilizer business.
a source assured to Armando.info, at least one of the Khalil group’s company,
Distribuidora Agromar, trades agricultural materials, like
As indications emerge, it is clear that there is still much to understand about the strange relationship between a Cypriot lawyer who structures offshore business, high-level authorities of the Greek government, and a Venezuelan entrepreneur who offers rides through the oceans.
(*) This report was made in the framework of Panama Papers 2, a series produced from a leak of documents obtained by the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper of Munich, and co-sponsored by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) of Washington with reports from Athens by Harry Karanikas, Protagon.gr
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.