Since its opening in 2017, the Porsche Design Tower quickly became a symbol of luxury and ostentation in South Florida. Magnates from all over the world retreat behind the discretion of its tinted glass windows and virtually anonymous legal entities. But in recent days, two police investigations into illegal financial flows from abroad placed the building under an inconvenient spotlight. The justice just seized an apartment of over five million dollars from a Venezuelan agent.
It is no small thing that the Porsche Design Tower stands out in the real estate market in the imaginary of both the inhabitants and tourists who visit the metropolitan area of Miami. In that area of South Florida, buildings of Zaha Hadid, Bjarke Ingels, Rem Koolhaas and the duo of the Swiss Herzog and De Meuron, i.e. a virtual super league of the most renowned architects in the world, are being erected or have already been built. In the midst of so much competition, the expressionless, almost Spartan black cylinder, nestled on the sands of Sunny Isles, northeast of Miami-Dade County, has earned a position on its own merits.
Such merits may not be exactly - or exclusively - design, despite its name. The roller with stained-glass facade, 60 floors and almost 200 meters high contrasts like a tube of twilight next to the characteristic Caribbean luminosity of the coast.
As the first Porsche-branded building, and Miami probably being the place of the planet with the highest density of Porsche cars on the streets, the promoters of the work have endeavored to turn it into a synonym of ostentation and exclusivity.
New Yorker singer Alicia Keys performed at the opening gala of the residential tower in March 2017. The penthouse for sale has an asking price of 32 million dollars in the market; the other almost 800-square meter penthouse, PH1, was acquired on the same month of the opening of the condominium by Terry Taylor, a tycoon of car dealers of the neighboring city of Daytona, for 25 million dollars.
Each apartment terrace has a heated pool. A huge refrigerated wine storage cellar is available to tenants in the ground floor restaurant areas, which have an exclusive chef. When visitors leave the car to valet parking, they can take one of the many Norwegian-based brand Voss water bottles from a cooler of colossal dimensions, free of charge. But the most distinctive feature of the building, for which it has earned reviews in many media and almost amusement-park certificates, is its car lift. Through a refined installation of mechanical parking -the test of which alone had a cost of 40 million dollars in Germany - tenants can go with their luxurious cars right into the living room of their apartments.
After all, it is a building built by car lovers with car lovers in mind, endorsed by a car make.
But this building, built expressly with the purpose of leaving its tenants speechless, has gained a new and unwanted notoriety in recent weeks.
Last May, its promoters were linked to a scheme of tax evasion and irregular payments uncovered by the Brazilian police. The Operation Miami Connection allowed the Brazilian authorities to detect the offshore structure whereby a group of investors from the State of Santa Catarina paid for the Porsche license to name a luxury residential project.
And then the condominium was mentioned again in a criminal complaint document filed on July 23 with the Federal Criminal Court of the Southern District of Florida. After more than two years of investigations, the agents of the Homeland Security Investigations Office (HSI) completed the Money Flight Operation, whereby they dismantled a network that laundered money illegally extracted from the coffers of the Venezuelan state oil company, PDVSA, and circulated in part through bank accounts in the United States of America.
The mechanism revealed by the detectives included a collusion agreement between Pdvsa executives and Venezuelan financiers, whereby they offered loans in bolivars to Pdvsa to be reimbursed within strict time limit and in foreign currency, dollars or euros, at the official exchange rate. The exchange differential in each transaction gave profits of up to ten times the capital invested, from which the respective bids were paid to authorities of the state holding company and intermediaries that conceived and managed formulas to incorporate those funds into the banking system. According to the investigation, up to 1.2 billion dollars were thus legitimized.
In the midst of that plot appears apartment 2205 of the Porsche Design Tower, currently subject to seizure along with another 16 luxury properties in South Florida.
Based on the written statement of Special Agent George F. Fernandez on behalf of the HSI, in May 2016, Carmelo Urdaneta Aquí, identified in the testimony as legal adviser to the Minister of Energy and Mines of Venezuela, was negotiating the purchase of that residential unit. To close the business, he rushed agent Jose Vicente Chente Amparan Croquer, another Venezuelan who - posing as a real estate investor and through contracts for the fictitious purchase of financial papers - set in motion the structure that allowed washing the funds. Amparan would get the money to complete the purchase. In between, Urdaneta agreed to transfer the apartment to Amparan Croquer as part of the payment for his financial management services. Thus, apartment 2205 of the Porsche Design Tower, of almost 300 square meters (3230 sq ft), for sale at 5.3 million dollars, ended up in the hands of Paladium Real Estate Group LLC, ran by Carolina Croquer de González, a relative of Amparan.
The episode highlighted that the Porsche Design Tower its excess, is no place for ordinary tenants. In fact, it is for rich people, very rich people that love the most dramatic luxury, but at the same time require the necessary discretion to enjoy it.
Even the promoters of the residential complex have a controversial profile. Father and son, Michael and Gil Dezer - Dezertov is the original surname of the patriarch native of Israel - lead 18555 Developers Inc, the sales company of the tower. The Florida press calls them super developers. Their ventures are never modest. For years, Michael Dezer was partner of current US president Donald Trump. Gil has recognized that Trump is the model on which he has built his own business style. Very close to the Porsche Design Tower, on Sunny Island ?that section of the Atlantic coast between Miami Beach and the favorite adventure city of the Jewish community and the Russian oligarchs, where many store marquees are in Cyrillic?, both had developed the Trump Tower III project, another luxury condo. All in all, the Dezers do not trust Trump. According to reporter Jerry Lanelli of the Miami New Times (https://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/michael-dezer-worried-trump-would-ask-him-for-money-10671517), Michael Dezer affirmed during a statement before the investigators of a case of corruption in 2016, that he learned never to speak of "personal matters" with Trump, because he always feared that he would ask for money.
In a recent interview with Pablo de Llano, correspondent in Miami of El País de Madrid newspaper (https://elpais.com/internacional/2018/07/29/estados_unidos/1532891182_409144.html), Gil Dezer tried to outline, without leaking many information, who were the residents of his exclusive project. "Great executives, celebrities, a singer that you hear all the time on the radio. There's a guy who is president of a drink you often drink, a video-poker mogul or a guy who had a Nike factory in Argentina, sold the company and retired." In case of the latter, Dezer apparently referred to Juan Pablo Verdiquio, owner of apartment 1205, who led the Extreme Gear sports shoes factory in Argentina. Another magnate, the Mexican Carlos Peralta Quintero, founder of the Iusa group, has a residence in the complex.
In the listing, typical of a sales flyer, there are noteworthy absences. In any case, it is understandable why Dezer failed to mention a few. Andrea Romanello, the daughter of an alleged New York mafia boss is also among the owners (https://therealdeal.com/miami/2017/01/04/daughter-of-alleged-mobster-and-her-husband-pay-5-2m-for-unit-at-porsche-design/); the founder of the telegenic Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in Brazil, Edir Macedo, El Obispo (https://therealdeal.com/miami/2016/12/05/brazilian-media-mogul-the-bishop-among-buyers-at-porsche-design/); Germán Rosete, the mysterious Mexican boyfriend of a former Puerto Rican Miss Universe; or René Gioia, a Brazilian lawyer finger-pointed in 1997 as part of a money laundering case.
Most units are owned by legal entities, many of them incorporated as Limited Liability Companies (LLC), a category created in Florida specifically to encourage the registration of companies with non-contributing foreign shareholders. Certainly, against the majority fraction of foreign investors, the US owners in the Porsche Design Tower are in a minority.
Of the 132 apartments listed in the online registry of the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser, at least twelve are recognizable as property of Venezuelan customers (at least, because several units are controlled by offshore structures that refer to jurisdictions like Saint Kitts-Nevis, Cyprus, British Virgin Islands or Delaware, the beneficiaries of which could not be identified for this issue).
It is the second nationality with the greatest presence among the owners of this extreme luxury condominium, right before the Brazilians (19) and on par with the Russians (12). The finding is surprising, given the acute socio-economic crisis that the country is going through, which is throwing out hundreds or thousands of refugees abroad every day.
With the new exposure that the Money Flight case offered to this fantastic building, the question about what other Venezuelans own apartments is now on the spotlight. The attached infographic answers it.
As if they were pieces of a broken mirror scattered in many islands around the world, several offshore companies form an oil-trading business network that reveals the trajectory of Alessandro Bazzoni and Francisco D'Agostino. Both of them, together with the Venezuelan telecommunications magnate Oswaldo Cisneros, landed in 2016 in the Orinoco Belt to fill the vacancy of the original partner, Harvest Natural Resources.
Aside from ethical questions, the logic of a private entity opening an offshore company seems elementary —to declare its profits in a territory where it can pay less tax than it should in its place of origin. But when it comes to a state-owned company like Petróleos de Venezuela, which is not obliged to pay taxes - and therefore does not need to evade them - it is difficult to understand why within its business scheme there is contracting with companies established in tax havens and there is even the creation of their own subsidiaries in these places. What does the Venezuelan public treasury gain from this?
The member of the US Cabinet, Wilbur Ross, is one of the owners of a company that provides maritime transport services to Pdvsa, a client that in 2015 contributed over 11 percent of the profits to his shipping company. Although the official had to get rid of his mercantile properties to hold his position, he kept a participation in that line of business through a complex offshore structure in the Cayman Islands. Thus, he did not only do business with chavista Venezuela, but also with an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Both countries are subject to economic sanctions by Washington.
The name of the former head of the Venezuelan oil company in Colombia appears in the papers of Mossack Fonseca with 100% of the shares of a company created in June 2011, of which she requested to be dissolved six months later. She is unemployed since August 2015, when she was replaced by the ex-sister-in-law of President Nicolás Maduro
The former Vice President of Finance and director of the state oil company was one of the executives in the industry with more charges and accusations. In 2006, the Office of the Comptroller opened a proceeding against him for not filing the sworn statement of assets. In 2011, he became noticeable for his alleged participation in the Ponzi scheme of Francisco Illaramendi. In 2009, four years after having him as a client, Mossack Fonseca learned that he was a Politically Exposed Person, but maintained the business relationship because no "links to illegal activities" were found.
Until 2010, he was the auditor general of PDVSA. A year before retirement, he wanted to have a power of attorney to manage a company registered in Panama, through an operation that involved Switzerland and Luxembourg, all under a scheme designed by Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm specialized in creating international structures to cover the wealth of those who can pay for their services.
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.