Spanish – On Mondays, before the plenary sessions of the Venezuelan National Assembly, the so-called “board of directors” meets to establish the agenda for the upcoming day. The heads of the main opposition parties and other deputies who are given the right to speak take part in this meeting. In the April 13 session, a major opposition party obstructed a proposal to investigate a banker accused of fraud and money laundering. In the following session, another party reportedly joined these obstruction efforts, according to several sources consulted by the PanAm Post.
It all began just before Nicolás Maduro’s dictatorship decreed mandatory quarantine in Venezuela due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was the last session in the Legislative Palace. Justice First Deputy Julio Montoya asked for the right to speak. The rest of the important opposition parties denied it. Montoya wanted to speak in the plenary session about Victor Vargas, an important Venezuelan banker, owner of Banco Occidental de Descuento, who is accused of corruption.
“I am requesting this investigation against Victor Vargas for two reasons: there are strong accusations of depositors in his banks about scams worth millions, and we also have information that Odebrecht is linked. The other reason is that we want to have access to all the data because we want to know which public companies made it through these banks. We know that money was issued to Europe and we could be looking at a case of money laundering,” said Deputy Montoya to the PanAm Post.
(The first complaint referred to by the deputy is best detailed in an article that journalist Sabrina Martin published in the PanAm Post in October 2019. Vargas is also a banker with allegedly close ties to Chavismo. In an article published in ABC, the journalist Ludmila Vinogradoff points out that Victor Vargas is “a Chavista banker.” His fortune grew exponentially under the regime of Hugo Chávez).
Congressman Montoya’s request, instead of being discussed in the Assembly, was referred to the Comptrollership Committee. When asked about this, the president of the Committee, Deputy José Prat of Radical Cause Party, said, “Julio Montoya proposed the issue and the Committee unanimously decided to request the creation of a joint commission because this was a case involving fraud and laundering.”
A deputy from the Justice First party spoke to the PanAm Post under the condition of anonymity. She said, “creating another commission sounds like procrastination.”
José Prat told the PanAm Post that the Comptroller’s Committee is still waiting for a response to the request for the creation of the joint group.
According to another source, who was at the meeting of the Comptroller’s Committee in which Montaya’s proposal was discussed, “the first indication that something was wrong was the intervention of Congressman Freddy Guevara.” According to the source, Guevara, of the Popular Will party, said that he had doubts about the decision to investigate the BOD because it was a private company, and the Committee only investigated cases related to public resources. When asked about this, Freddy Guevara denied that version. “It is false. Those sessions are recorded, so you can ask for the minutes. My approach was to include finance and domestic policy. And my proposal was approved unanimously.”
However, the PanAm Post had access to an audio recording of the meeting in the Comptroller’s Committee in which Freddy Guevara is heard saying the following: “I have the impression that some of the elements (of Montoya’s complaint) belong mainly to the Finance Commission. Basically, the Comptroller’s Committee deals with public funds. So for the financial issue, I have the feeling that it has to go to other committees. I believe that the object of the investigation should be reinforced; unless I am mistaken, I believe that the issue of the bankruptcy or the scamming of small savers should be dealt with by other committees.
In the same audio, Montoya responds to Guevara: “I request that this investigation be maintained in the Comptrollership Committee because I believe that we are in the middle of a great corruption operation of money laundering from public officials, military sectors, from companies like Odebrecht.
“Venezuelans are waiting for justice at such a complicated moment in history. The Comptroller’s Committee must stand by this type of investigation where private and public parties colluded to scam Venezuelans,” Montoya said in the audio of the Comptroller’s Committee meeting.
Finally, in the same conversation, Guevara insists that his intention is not that the complaint should not be investigated in the Comptroller’s Committee, but that he thinks that no committee should take on what is not within its competence.
At the time of publication of this article, there has been no response to the request for access to the minutes of the meeting of the Comptroller’s Committee.
However, Justice First Deputy Karim Vera told the PanAm Post that since March, there were attempts to have the case of Victor Vargas and the BOD discussed. But the issue was postponed, evaded, or buried.
“There is an attempt to downplay its importance. Deferring the point. There isn’t enough attention paid to it even though we are talking about a very relevant topic. We have pushed, but it is rudely deferred,” Vera said. When asked which specific party was blocking the proposal, she preferred not to talk about any of them. “I don’t think it is my place, ethically. But it has been postponed. What has been done is unethical.”
Finally, it was April 13. On that day, at a board meeting, discussion of the proposal began. Two parliamentary sources assured the PanAm Post that Adriana Pichardo from Popular Will, Arnoldo Benitez from Radical Cause, Alfonso Marquina from Primero Justicia, Nora Bracho from A New Era, and Carlos Prosperi from the Democratic Action party were present at the virtual meeting.
According to the two parliamentary sources, Nora Bracho of A New Era explicitly expressed her disagreement with the proposal to investigate Victor Vargas. “She said that Vargas couldn’t be investigated because this is a private case and does not fall within the jurisdiction of the Assembly. She also referred to the fact that the Comptroller’s Committee has a history of extortion. She said the committee wanted to open the investigation against Vargas and then extort him, as had been done before.”
The PanAm Post tried to contact Deputy Nora Bracho but received no response.
The topic was also brought up in other meetings. According to one source at one meeting, two parties opposed the proposal to investigate the BOD: A New Era and Democratic Action. “Manuel Texeira from A New Era and Piero Maroun from Democratic Action.”
“Piero was there personally. I know. They raised the issue, he dismissed and refused to discuss it.” said the parliamentary source.
Texeira did not respond to the request for comment. Deputy Maroun said, “Deputy Julio Montoya has raised this complaint. I do not know the case; I am not on the Comptroller’s Committee, so I cannot give you any information. Tell whoever is giving you the information to be serious. There is a desperation to extort money from the BOD. We are all willing to investigate what needs to be investigated, both in the private and public sectors.”