Odebrecht's Masterpiece of Corruption worthy of an Art Gallery

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.

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Payments from the so-called caja dos (box 2) of Odebrecht also ended up in the Freites Gallery in Caracas. It had to be to buy artworks. It is the only explanation admitted by Alejandro Freites, the owner of the prestigious establishment in Las Mercedes - a Bohemian neighborhood of major brand shops in the southeast of the Venezuelan capital - when asked to go over the transfers of funds registered in Switzerland and for which the prosecution of that country includes him in the cast of the now famous Lava Jato scandal.

"I have nothing to do with Odebrecht," he warns just in case. "I never knew that that person had a relationship with Odebrecht; otherwise, I would have asked them to finance a book of artworks as they financed another gallery".

Beyond the humorous comment, Freites recognizes the transfers. But he assures that it was the form of payment used by one of his clients, the Venezuelan lawyer Héctor Dáger, the same commission agent who was first appointed in Brazil as an intermediary of the Venezuelan Government and who is now known to have shared bank accounts with the managing director of Odebrecht in Venezuela, Euzenando Azevedo, who in December 2016, betrayed Dáger at the hearings of the Lava Jato case.

In total, Dáger appears linked to the flow of 235 million dollars that the Swiss Prosecutor's Office attributes to the Odebrecht plot in Venezuela. The alarms went off when they found about 49 million in bank accounts in that country that he had received from Innovation Research Engineering and Development and some of the already known facades of the Brazilian construction giant to circulate their irregular payments.

But, after that initial discovery, the Swiss authorities noticed an even larger flow that reached the accounts of Dáger from the OIV Consortium, a trio of companies that, together with Odebrecht, the Italian Impregilo and the Venezuelan Vinccler, was organized in June of 2005 to erect in the State of Bolívar, in the Venezuelan Guayana, the so many times promised and still unfinished hydroelectric dam of Tocoma.

"In addition to the direct or indirect income of the Odebrecht group in accounts held by Dáger, other income that could be of interest is recorded," said prosecutor Dounia Rizzonico in a document dated November 10, 2017, which she sent from Switzerland to the General Prosecutor's Office of the Republic of Venezuela, under code SV.17.0220-REZ. "Nearly 180 million USD were recorded between 2010 and 2015, coming from an account of OIV-Tocoma Consortium in Banesco Bank, Panama, with the reference of 'purchase material'".

The Swiss prosecutor's office managed to freeze almost 90 million dollars dammed in four of the thirteen bank accounts in the name of companies controlled by Dáger: BMS Investment, Kenvest Corp, Ocean Business Ltd, and Alquimia Holdings. But the rest of the money went on. For example, 1.3 million ended up in the M&L Art Corporation and was received by Venezuelan Alejandro Freites, owner of the Freites Gallery. Interrogated on the matter, the dealer assures that the transaction does not hide more mystery than the sale of artworks to Dáger, the details of which he prefers to reserve. He also seems surprised. He never expected that the Swiss authorities would link him to one of the greatest cases of corruption ever seen in Latin America.

But he also did not suspect, he says, of another million dollars that he received, not directly from Dáger, one of the clients of his gallery, but from the aforementioned Odebrecht facade company Innovation Research Engineering and Development, which between 2012 and 2014, remitted 14 million to Dáger from the Meinl Bank of Antigua, the bank that Odebrecht bought and tailored to suit its needs in the Caribbean island of Antigua.

Two transactions were made to Freites in an offshore company, which he shared with his wife and daughter in the British Virgin Islands, under the name of Maambe Corporation, and from which he only claims to have sold several artworks that he sent to Miami Beach, Florida. No more than that. In the interview, he prefers not to give details out of respect for his clients.

Swiss Effort

The Office of the General prosecutor’s Office of Venezuela has not referred to this particular aspect nor, in general, to the framework of irregular contributions and payments built by Odebrecht and other Brazilian civil engineering companies in Venezuela. Now that several pieces of the Odebrecht puzzle in Venezuela are beginning to appear, in the office of the pro-government prosecutor, Tarek William Saab, they ignore the case while their archrival, the rebel prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Díaz, got this week from the so-called Supreme Court in exile a sentence of 18 years in prison against the head of state, Nicolás Maduro.

A year ago, Saab ruled out opening an investigation against Maduro. "We will not work based on speculations," he resolved in August 2017, when he had just held the position at the Prosecutor’s Office. Now he does not even mention the case. His office agreed to give an answer when formally requested for information about the Odebrecht case, but it never came.

“Dáger appears linked to the flow of 235 million dollars”

In Switzerland, where there are still many clues on the matter, the prosecution authorities continued with the investigative measures. There they keep track of a dozen Venezuelan contractors and subcontractors -mainly related to the Tocoma dam -, who received payments from Odebrecht, either through Dáger or through the parallel channels with offshore companies of the Department of Structured Operations, as Odebrecht euphemistically called its management of bribe payments.

The list includes, among others, the name of Manuel José Salazar Bianchi, the vice president of the Venezuelan Government contractor, Constructora Servisaga, who received $ 3 million from Yellow Sun Group Corp. Also includes the Venezuelans Alan Jesús Rodríguez González and Luis Ramón Serrano, each with more than six million dollars that Dáger paid them on behalf of companies M.L. Intelligence and Gambrel Group, respectively. Also 4.4 million for Energy Consultancy Ventures, owned by lawyer Freddy Manuel Díaz, general secretary of the Gigantes de Guayana basketball team and, in the past, part of the board of directors of the Professional Basketball League.

Dáger, on the other hand, in that platform of transfers, received between 2002 and 2004, deposits from the former president of the Venezuelan Chamber of Construction, Juan Francisco Clérico, and head of the Venezuelan company Inversiones y Construcciones Clérico, C.A., the traditional Vinccler family business, one of the most important in infrastructure projects in Venezuela. Vinccler accompanied Odebrecht in the unfinished Tocoma hydroelectric plant and also participated in metro lines construction projects, signed by the director of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (Sebin, political police), General Gustavo González López, when he was president of the Metro de Caracas and Los Teques.

Also worth mentioning are the $ 2.2 million that Odebrecht deposited in Credit Suisse for Rote Energie company of Joan Manuel Fereira Rosillo, a contractor in the State of Zulia (northwestern corner of Venezuela), which has worked for the state oil company Pdvsa and the mayor’s offices of Maracaibo and San Francisco. Fereira, in any case, is much more remembered for having been part of the million-dollar scam that between 2003 and 2005 was known in the region as La Vuelta, for which he was prosecuted.

Although the version of everyone involved was sought, they preferred to maintain a low profile and declined the opportunity to publish their statements. Several, though, recognized the transfers from the firms linked to Odebrecht's box 2, but at the same time, they insisted that they had contracts, invoices and everything in order to justify the payments detected in Switzerland.

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