More than 550 million U.S. dollars went through the cliff in some Pdvsa Agrícola (PDVSA Agriculture) facilities, which were partly built in four provinces of Venezuela. A new file of judicial documents and bank deposits of the Lava Jato operation -leaked for this report- involve Egly Ramírez (uncle of the former president of the state oil company and current ambassador of Venezuela to the United Nations, Rafael Ramírez) and other former officials in the biggest corruption scandal of recent years that established a systematic payment of bribes to people with responsibilities in the governments of Latin America, so that the Brazilian multinational could win the tenders.
The uncle of Venezuela's ambassador to the UN, Rafael Ramírez, also received commissions from Odebrecht. The giant of the Brazilian construction gave a slice of his bribes to Egly Ramírez and the rest of the board of directors of PDVSA Agrícola. In Brazil, they estimate that they diverted over US$ 30 million from the ethanol projects that Petróleos de Venezuela promised in four towns of the country.
PDVSA raised the flag of ethanol and renewable energy 10 years ago. In line with market trends, the state oil company drew the map of the country with 17 plants that used the soils of the tropics to transform sugarcane into fuel made in Venezuela. It promised a clean energy future from the hand of official Egly Antonio Ramírez Coronado, who turned out to be the uncle of the then president of PDVSA and also one of the many Latin American officials involved in the now infamous Lava Jato scandal.
The first time he was known publicly was in October 2006. "Venezuela has great capacities to produce ethanol due to its geographical and climatic conditions, in addition to having excellent relationships with the fuel market, which favors the implementation of this energetic resource in the industry processes." That's what Egly Ramírez said in a press release that presented him at the head of a flagship project that would later become a subsidiary of PDVSA. He is no longer the same alchemist. Now he stands out in the files of the Brazilian justice as one of the Venezuelans touched by Odebrecht corruption.
Through an offshore company, registered in Panama with the name of Juston Business Corp, Egly Ramírez received commissions along with three other directors of Pdvsa Agrícola: Alfonso Núñez, Miguel Ruiz and Raúl González Ciavaldini. The key card in this tangle of transfers and negotiations leads to the Brazilian Osvaldo Basteri Rodrigues, who introduced himself as a representative of Pdvsa Agrícola in Brazil.
He was behind the ghost signature of Panama. He was the one receiving and moving over US$ 30 million, and he negotiated with Odebrecht on behalf of the staff of Pdvsa Agrícola.
"He was a Pdvsa Agrícola representative, an interlocutor, with the role of intermediation (...) he owned two companies called Juston and Intersugar, and when the contract was executed, the payment for that man was authorized to be made through those companies," confessed Marcio Faria Da Silva before the prosecutors of the case. He is one of the executives of the Brazilian company who helped put together the puzzle of the Lava Jato case in exchange for procedural benefits.
of Odebrecht inflated the amount of the four agro-industrial complexes with
which PDVSA announced the exclusive of the national ethanol. A new file of
documents and bank deposits
- leaked for this report - now shows that the refiners promised in the state of Trujillo, in the Venezuelan Andes, as well as in the plains states of Barinas, Cojedes and Portuguesa, resulted in costs increased by fictitious subcontracts.
"I was informed that payments of bribes were made to Osvaldo's company through the execution of fictitious contracts," Marcio Faria Da Silva (one of Odebrecht executives that approved representatives in Caracas from Sao Paulo) explained on December 14, 2016, before the prosecutors.
The paper company received US$ 33,184,000 from the firm Innovation Research Engineering and Development Ltd, currently one of the most known facades of the so-called Department of Structured Operations, which Odebrecht used as a euphemism to avoid presenting it as its unit of bribes and commissions. From November 2011 to January 2014, there were 23 deposits from that company, from an account of the Meinl Bank of Antigua and Barbuda, one of the banks where the Brazilians protected a good part of their operations.
It all started in Rubaiyat, one of the most recognized meat restaurants in Sao Paulo according to the city's gastronomic guides. Brazilian Osvaldo Basteri must have closed the business on behalf of Pdvsa Agrícola between some cuts of beef, with a fictitious contract dated October 10, 2011. "What was the result of that meal? The result was payments for 32 million U.S. dollars," recalled César Faría Rocha, one of the attendees, but no longer from the comfort of a luxury restaurant but before the prosecutors, who on December 14 of last year interrogated him about his role as an Odebrecht executive.
Faria does not specify how the loot was divided inside Pdvsa, but there is no doubt that the managers were also in the distribution. "You will not pay 30 million dollars more without receiving money in return," he said to the prosecutors who asked about Venezuelans. His colleague Marcio Faria Da Silva did mention the managerial train of the agricultural subsidiary of PDVSA by name and surname. "I approved the payments," he summarized. "What I was informed is that he (Osvaldo Basteri) represented Alfonso Núñez, Egly Ramírez, Miguel Ruiz, and Raúl González. I did not know them and I do not know how it was divided between Osvaldo and them."
According to the witnesses —accomplices turned into informers—, "the commissions add up to" 6% of the values received and not of the contracted values," which means that over US$ 550 million went through the cliff in some Pdvsa Agrícola facilities, whose postcards warn that they were half completed.
Today the weed covers a good part of the 22,000 hectares (54,363.18 acres) of Anzoátegui municipality of the state of Cojedes, where PDVSA proclaimed the Agro-industrial Complex Derived from Sugarcane (Cadca). The images are eloquent: the infinite plain barely interrupted by a metal skeleton that must have laid the foundations of an ethanol plant.
Two years ago, the noise of a construction was heard there for the last time. The works stopped since then. Calculating the pecuniary losses is a complicated task because even before Odebrecht, from 2008 to 2011, the construction was in charge of the Cuban cooperation. Pdvsa Agrícola even bought a dozen farms from the surrounding areas that are now unproductive.
The ethanol promise ended in scam. The president of the Association of Sugarcane Growers of Cojedes, Luisidio Herrera, recalls that the latest news they gave to producers in the area, who received funding to plant sugarcane while they were building the plant, is that the work did not exceed a 38% progress.
The same occurred in the other three locations. ‘It is not ready, we will see, call later,’ they summarized this week on the other side of the telephone in the communities involved in the states of Barinas, Portuguesa and Trujillo.
Meanwhile, there are no answers in Pdvsa. The state oil company ignored the requests for information on the balance of this work. Neither did they give news of the officials involved, who we tried to contact by written communication.
The affected areas were informed that Pdvsa Agrícola is now winding up. On behalf of the Association of Sugarcane Growers of Cojedes, Luisidio Herrera says that the regional coordinator of the agency, Inés Velásquez, informed them that this subsidiary of the Venezuelan oil company would cease its operations and that a new organism called PDVSA Ethanol would be in charge of the project of agro-industrial complexes of sugarcane by-products (Cadca).Pdvsa Agrícola will be among the subsidiaries that the oil company had to re-launch. After the scandal of the business with decomposed food, something similar happened in Pdval, a subsidiary precisely founded and registered by the same uncle of Rafael Ramírez who stands out among the Venezuelans involved in the biggest scandal in the history of Brazil and Latin America.
In other countries, Odebrecht at least completed the works, but in Venezuela, they were not even forced to terminate the contracts that allowed them to pay bribes in exchange for surcharges. The Public Prosecutor's Office has not said a word regarding this or other stalled constructions. Not even because -paradoxes of this story- the prosecutor appointed by the National Constituent Assembly, Tarek William Saab, also promised two ethanol plants in the state of Anzoátegui when he was governor of that entity.
Saab returned in 2005 from an official visit to Cuba with the promise of two ethanol plants in Anzoátegui. In a committee with Pdvsa Agrícola, he showed photos of a private meeting with the then Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, as well as the plans of some sugarcane processors that were also no more than words.
Over 12 years later, the prosecutor has ruled out investigating Governor Nicolás Maduro, and others Chavismo leaders linked to the Lava Jato plot. However, not long after he denounce a conspiracy of his predecessors to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, after prosecutor Pedro Lopera -now in exile- substantiated a case against constituent Diosdado Cabello and two of his cousins for the copies of transfers to company TSE Arietis, found during the raid on the offices that the construction company had in Caracas.
Beyond the names of political figures and Government officials involved, the corruption plot deployed by the Brazilian construction company in Venezuela brought huge amounts of money in irregular payments into circulation. In Swiss banks, the transit of at least 235 million dollars was detected, mostly bribes linked to the Tocoma hydroelectric project, which after feeding the accounts of intermediaries reached their destination. For now, investigations determine that the capillarity through which the funds flowed led to art merchants, patriarchs of civil engineering dynasties, and even sports managers.
Euzenando Azevedo had the doors of the Miraflores Palace open with Chávez and at the same time, he had a direct line with CEO Marcelo Odebrecht. Then, he became a key witness in the parade of plea bargains of the Lava Jato case. However, despite the many privileges, his testimony fell short. He failed to inform about some bank accounts in Switzerland that reveal that he kept money with one of the commissioners he had reported, Venezuelan lawyer Héctor Dáger.
Kept under lock and key in Brazil since late 2016, the videos of the Odebrecht trial on Venezuela finally appear. As of today, Armando.info begins to publish a string of clips that show the faces of the witnesses who documented the case. Some of their statements had already been published on this platform, but here they go with the voice and tone of their protagonists.
The judicial authorities of Switzerland found a connection between the wife and the mother-in-law of the former Venezuelan minister with at least 40 million dollars deposited in eight bank accounts, one of which was shared with one of the main negotiators of bribes and kickbacks between Odebrecht and the governments of Chávez and Maduro. Although they asked the Venezuelan justice to investigate the matter, the courts denied any possibility of addressing the case and the Venezuelan Prosecutor's Office, led by Tarek William Saab, acts as if not aware.
Neither the revolutionary commander of Venezuela, nor the charismatic president Lula of Brazil, but the senior staff of the construction company turned into the Major Elector when the Brazilian Senate had to vote on the incorporation of Caracas into the trading bloc. Based on the transcripts of the Lava Jato case, Marcelo Odebrecht personally led the lobbying campaign aimed to break the three-year blockage that prevented the entry of the Chavista regime into the club. The operation included the recruitment of three key Senators from the Workers' Party, as allies.
Odebrecht was not the only one. Four companies were awarded a dozen works to build large infrastructures in Argentina, nearly always using the gimmick of an attractive quote and the accompanying financing by a Brazilian state development bank. However, they subcontracted other providers afterward and, with the projects already in progress, the costs increased and the Argentine State ended up providing the funds, over US$ 9,000 million, of which an average of 300 million per work corresponded to surcharges. In addition, today many of the projects remain unfinished. The pattern would be used by Brazilian construction companies in other Latin American markets.
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.