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.
The United States of America tries to disarm the financial scheme supporting Nicolás Maduro. This week, the Department of the Treasury added Compañía General de Minería de Venezuela (Minerven) and its president, Adrián Antonio Perdomo Mata, key pieces in the gold exchange operations for food carried out since last year by the Venezuelan Government, to the list of sanctioned entities of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
With no career path in mining, Adrián Perdomo is, in fact, an old acquaintance of Alex Saab Morán and Álvaro Pulido Vargas, the Colombian entrepreneurs who since 2016 stand out as the main beneficiaries of food imports for the state program of the Local Supply and Production Committee (Clap), linked to Maduro in 2017 by General Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Díaz, dismissed from office by Chavismo. Maybe that was the only reason why Maduro signed on July 20, 2018, the presidential decree that appointed Perdomo as president of Minerven.
The link between Adrián Perdomo and the pair Saab-Pulido is such that on February 21, just a month before being sanctioned by the USA, the president of Minerven was in Bogotá. His trip had nothing to do with the operations of the mining company. In fact, Perdomo was trying to dissociate himself from two Colombian companies related to the never-ending business scheme that the couple of entrepreneurs, also Colombian, developed thanks to their business with Chavismo.
Documents obtained for this report confirm that the participation of Adrián Perdomo in the business structure of the Colombian duo goes back to the activities of Fondo Global de Construcción, a holding company with presence in several countries (Colombia, Peru, Venezuela) and origin in the Mediterranean island of Malta, with which both began in 2011 their career as contractors of the self-styled Bolivarian Revolution.
Adrián Perdomo - about to be 50 - has only been eight months at the head of the state company in charge of exploring, exploiting and processing gold from the Guayana mines in southern Venezuela. But his placement coincides with a boom in metal trade as a mean to replace the increasingly meager oil revenues of the Government of Maduro due to the disaster that the industry has been experiencing for months.
"The Treasury is targeting Minerven and its president for propping up the immediate environment of the corrupt regime of Maduro," Steve Munchin, Secretary of the Treasury, said in a statement on Tuesday. "We will aggressively pursue those involved in the illicit trade of gold that is contributing to this financial, humanitarian and environmental crisis," he warned.
Apart from considering them illegal for not being approved by the National Assembly - controlled by the opposition since 2016 - or as a mechanism to evade the financial sanctions imposed by Donald Trump’s administration since August 2017, US authorities suspect that there are corrupt practices behind the increased gold exports. In October 2018, there was a first warning from the North.
"We have seen Turkish companies replace many of the food companies that made incursions into the corruption related to the Clap food boxes program," said Marshall Billingslea, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. By that time, Venezuela was sending shipments of gold to Turkey of about 21 tons, valued at around 800 million dollars. In exchange, around 31 thousand tons of food and another 120 of medicines, came from Turkey to Venezuela dispatched by a score of suppliers, while Maduro and Recep Tayyip Erdogan strengthened the ties between both nations.
Víctor Cano, Minister of Mining Development, acknowledged to the Reuters agency in July 2018 that the gold shipments were the product of a gold refining "deal" between Turkey and the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV). "It is not smuggling to Turkey," he insisted. It is one of the few statements offered by any Venezuelan official about an exchange that seems out of control and of which the president of Minerven is a key figure.
One of his first decisions was also Turkey-related. On August 31, 2018, just one month after taking office, the creation of a "joint venture" between Minerven and the Turkish Marilyn’s Proje Yatirim, an unknown company connected with the scheme hatched by Alex Saab and Álvaro Pulido – his former bosses -, became official. “We are a gold and metal products trading company worldwide (...) Our extensive network of contacts allows us to have wide global coverage," says the website of the Turkish company. It also affirms that they are capable of extracting and processing gold and precious metals, although without detailing where they have developed such works.
In addition to gold exports from the so-called Orinoco Mining Arc, Maduro has liquidated part of the gold from international reserves. Noor Capital, a financial firm of the United Arab Emirates, which according to sources has also been used for payments to CLAP food importers, confirmed that in January of this year, it bought three tons of that monetary gold. One of the most recent operations reported by opposition parliamentarians is the sale of eight tons that ended up in a refinery in Uganda, which are investigated by the authorities of that country for potential smuggling. The “Cuentas Claras” Digital portal, dedicated to corruption issues in Venezuela, linked Alex Saab to that case. "Sources: Alex Saab would be the owner of the gold seized in Uganda that he received as payment for imports made for the Maduro regime, of which he is the main supplier," posted the portal on his Twitter account, on March 17.
This version has not been proved. The Venezuelan authorities have not spoken on the subject either. However, there is no doubt about the connection of the now sanctioned president of Minerven with the many businesses of Alex Saab and Álvaro Pulido.
A first proof of the link between the president of Minerven and Colombian entrepreneurs Alex Saab and Álvaro Pulido was revealed by Armando.info in a report published last October. It showed that Adrián Perdomo was a Caracas-based director of Trading Energy and Coal (Trenaco), a Colombian oil company headquartered in Switzerland, controlled in the shadow by Saab. That was just a sign.
On February 21, Adrián Perdomo dissociated himself in Bogotá from Latin American Supply Corporation (Colasum), registered in February 2015, and Aerojet Executive SAS, registered on January 8, 2016, with subsidiaries in Venezuela and the USA. The first, engaged in food marketing, was founded with Carlos Rolando Lizcano Manrique, an entrepreneur born in Cúcuta (Department of Norte de Santander in Colombia, on the border with Venezuela) with double share in the Clap business. On the one hand, he owns the company with which Saab and Pulido control the Clap Stores in Venezuela. He was also behind Group Grand Limited, the Hong Kong company to which the Government granted at least two contracts for almost 800 million dollars for the importation of 21.5 million food combos and another 800 million for the purchase of medicines in India.
In the case of Aerojet Executive, soon after its registration, the shares were held by Héctor Alejandro Valencia Fernández, Venezuelan, and Roswell Jesús Rosales Oberto, Venezuelan and Álvaro Pulido’s pilot. The Mexican authorities that in October 2018 revealed surcharges and poor quality of food exports by Alex Saab and Álvaro Pulido for the CLAPs have records of Roswell Oberto and Álvaro Pulido entering that country on private flights.
The positions of general and acting manager of both Colasum and Aerojet Executive were left in the hands of the wives of Adrián Perdomo and Roswell Oberto. No one in these companies answered the interview request. In Venezuela, Aerojet C.A. was created in September 2014, in the state of Aragua, center of the country, and a month later, it was registered in the state of Florida, USA. The company in Miami is already inactive, but in Venezuela, Roswell Oberto, who also did not answer the interview request, is listed as one of the partners, according to the National Registry of Contractors (RNC).
But the relationship of the president of Minerven with Alex Saab and Álvaro Pulido goes back to Fondo Global de Construcción, the company with which in 2011, they obtained a contract from the Government of Hugo Chávez for the construction of prefabricated homes. This business was eventually investigated by the Ecuadorian Prosecutor's Office, as it was suspected to be an operation to take advantage of the Unitary System of Regional Compensation (SUCRE), promoted by Chavez and his allies, like the then president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa.
In December 2012, Adrián Perdomo signed a contract with the Peruvian subsidiary of Fondo Global de Construcción for the "provision of professional services" that bound himself to "develop a project and assess the economic feasibility, creation, development and startup of poultry farms." For the company, the agreement was signed by Juvenal Jerónimo Alfaro Márquez, who years later coincided in Trenaco with Adrián Perdomo. According to the agreement, Adrián Perdomo would obtain 100,000 dollars.
Almost a year later, in August 2013, the current president of Minerven acted as attorney-in-fact "with wide administration and decision-making powers" of Vram Holding S.A.S., a company registered in Colombia, for his business with Venezuela's state-owned Suministros Venezolanos Industriales (Suvinca), then attached to the Ministry of Commerce.
The Power of Attorney in the name of Adrián Perdomo was signed by Adriana Martínez Rodríguez, partner of Álvaro Pulido and former acting deputy manager of Fondo Global de Construcción in Colombia, renamed in 2014 as Expel Management S.A.S. Vram Holding and Expel Management share a website, but it is not the only proof of the connection between these companies.
Vram Holding signed a contract with state-owned Suvinca in August 2013, for almost 20 million dollars for materials and supplies for the construction of the "Hugo Chávez" beach sports center in the state of Vargas - the central coast of Venezuela -, entrusted to Fondo Global de Construcción by the State Governor, and the baseball stadium. Two years later, on February 20, 2015, Vram Holding invoiced almost 4.5 million dollars to Suvinca for "aluminum modular bleachers", "TV control and security equipment," "power plant," and an "injection water pump," among other items.
The Superintendency of Corporations is investigating these in Colombia since early last year for the possible crime of "transnational bribery." That agency fined the company with the equivalent of about 50 thousand dollars for not cooperating with information at the time of the inspections.
"One of the reasons argued at that time was the existence of an international operation with a foreign entity, in which a public entity from another country was involved in an economic sector exposed to the risk of corruption, in certain countries. Additionally, based on that operation, the existence of a substantial transfer of resources, supported by a contract that could not be executed, was verified," as detailed in the file of the Superintendency of Corporations, which we have access to for this report.
For now, Adrián Perdomo remains silent. He has been silent since he became President of Minerven. For the workers, his trail remains elusive even now that the Department of the Treasury has pointed a finger at him and for his past businesses with Alex Saab and Álvaro Pulido, both under scrutiny.
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.
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.
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.
Turkey and the coastal emirates of the Arabian Peninsula are now the homes of companies that supply the main social -and clientelist- program of the Government of Venezuela. Although the move from Mexico and Hong Kong, seems geographically epic, the companies has not changed hands. They are still owned by Colombian entrepreneurs Alex Nain Saab Morán and Álvaro Pulido Vargas, who control since 2016 a good part of the Import of food financed with public funds. Around the world for a business.
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.