The murder of two young entrepreneurs committed in Caracas last May transcended the police report sections and gained an international echo inasmuch as one of the victims was related to a 'celebrity' in the fashion industry, Carolina Herrera, the Venezuelan designer with the most global recognition. But the plot, also international, ended up highlighting the violent interlacings of the dispute over the control of the furtive foreign exchange business that operates between Florida and Venezuela
An important ‘cold case' of high finance under Chavism can finally be solved thanks to the revelations arising out of the recent intervention in Curacao of Banco del Orinoco N.V., one of the jewels of the financial empire of the tycoon from Barinas ―the failed purchase in 2015 of Televen, one of the main private TV channels [in Venezuela]. This risky adventure left Vargas owing money to a somewhat questionable creditor. After delays and pressure, the banker had to dip into the turnover of his oil companies to get out of the difficulty.
After making friends with chavista and opposition politicians, the brothers Leopoldo and Andrés Castillo Bozo were charged in 2009 by the Venezuelan Prosecutor for the crime of identity theft to buy public debt bonds. The Panama Papers revealed that at the time, the owners of Grupo Banvalor had three companies in the Virgin Islands, in addition to 22 more companies distributed in the United States of America, Aruba, the Dominican Republic, and Panama. Never had a flight been so well secured.
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?
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.
A handshake between Hugo Chávez and Jiang Zemin, President of China, sealed a commercial relationship between Caracas and Beijing that totals two decades of cooperation marked by thousands of dollars and debts, half efficiency, and much opacity. Now, hundreds of official documents obtained by Armando.info and processed together with the Latin American Center for Investigative Journalism (CLIP) reveal, through a series of stories, how this exchange flowed, which was not always advantageous for Venezuela.Read serie