The United States government this week took aggressive measures to sanction a group of people guilty of participating in the economic devastation of Venezuela. These include individuals and companies that looted and embezzled public resources during the regimes of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Treasury Department (OFAC) dealt a blow against those who made their fortune at the expense of Venezuela’s public resources. According to the Treasury Department, the total amount of the corruption scheme was USD $2.4 billion.
This scandal constitutes the biggest corruption case in the history of the region, and it far exceeds that of Lava Jato, in which the construction giant Odebrecht acknowledged having paid bribes amounting to USD $788 million, while in the case in Venezuela, one of those involved in the embezzlement acknowledged having received USD $1 billion in payments for illegal activities. Thus, the embezzlement represent a significant percentage of Venezuelan GDP.
The new financial sanctions are against Raúl Gorrín and his wife, owners of Globovisión, who stand accused of money laundering; as well as against Claudia Díaz Guillén, former treasurer of Venezuela, who is waging a legal battle to avoid extradition to Venezuela from Spain.
The sanctions also target Adrián Velásquez, husband of Díaz Guillén; Leonardo González, another key player in the corruption plot, Gustavo Perdomo, brother-in-law and partner of Gorrín; and his wife, Mayela Tarascio.
According to OFAC, these seven people were implicated during the testimony of Alejandro Andrade, the former Venezuelan national treasurer who is currently in the witness protection program in the United States, through a corruption scheme that gave them preferential access to dollars, which they then sold on the parallel market.
“People with access to the Venezuelan regime have stolen billions of dollars from Venezuela, while Venezuelans suffer. The Treasury Department is targeting this network of currency corruption,” said US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in the statement.
This group is commonly known as the “band of dwarves,” and is headed by Nicolás Maduro, but also involves figures from the judiciary, business leaders, and the Venezuelan Armed Forces.
Luis Velásquez Alvaray, a former Chavista judge on the Venezuelan Supreme Court, recently revealed that the criminal outfit that has destroyed the country involves businessmen Raúl Gorrín and Gustavo Perdomo, owners of the television network Globovisión, who allegedly are linked to drug trafficking along with the current President of the Supreme Court, Maikel Moreno.
According to the ex-judge, the “band of dwarves” is leading the looting of the state oil company PDVSA, the Cartel of the Suns, drug trafficking, and the creation of armed Chavista collectives which have terrorized the Venezuelan population.
“This government mafia has always been coordinated by Nicolás Maduro; first within the National Assembly, then from within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and now from within Miraflores…Chávez knew all about it, and ordered shipments for Cuba to satisfy the pressing needs of the island,” Velásquez Alvaray added.
According to the Department of the Treasury, Gorrín and González “controlled the corrupt wealth that was generated through Andrade, putting the money in accounts abroad and reinvesting it in properties, airplanes and other luxury assets, according to Andrade’s testimony. The illicit proceeds were never sent to these individuals directly; the purchase of these assets was made through a sophisticated network of US and foreign companies. All the individuals involved in the scheme spent their portions of the profits in the United States, and maintained large deposits in US banks.”
From billionaires to prisoners
Some of the Venezuelan businessmen complicit in the embezzlement, which has greatly exacerbated the humanitarian crisis facing the South American country, are in the hands of international justice.
Men who, overnight, became billionaires, with luxury properties in multiple cities and countries, planes, yachts, and the world at their feet, became inmates and fugitives from justice, having laundered billions of dollars stolen from the Venezuelan State with the help of Chavez.
The former bodyguards of Chávez and Gorrín
The most recent and scandalous case is that of Alejandro Andrade Cedeño, ex-bodyguard of former president Hugo Chávez, who was later appointed treasurer of the nation.
After leaving his position as treasurer, he moved to Florida, where he bought a luxurious horse farm in Wellington, an area internationally known for equestrianism and horsebreeding.
Andrade admitted to the US justice system that he had received USD $1 billion from bribery.
The former treasurer pleaded guilty to money laundering and now is facing criminal prosecution in the United States. He has revealed dozens of names involved in the ruin of Venezuela.
In his statements, Andrade alleged that Raúl Gorrín, owner of the Globovisión news channel, paid him up to USD $1 billion in commissions, in addition to expenses related to private planes, yachts, houses, horses, watches, and designer clothes, all transactions made at a favorable exchange rate.
If Andrade’s commission was for this amount, one can only imagine the size of Gorrín’s immense profits, with Andrade acting as the intermediary for the illicit transactions.
According to the US Justice Department, the indictment alleges that Gorrin paid that amount in bribes to two high-level Venezuelan officials, including Andrade, to guarantee his rights to exchange foreign currency at favorable rates, with the Venezuelan government.
The banker of Chavismo
Another individual involved in the case, who is currently in custody, is Gabriel Arturo Jiménez Aray, a Venezuelan banker who also pleaded guilty with federal prosecutors in the United States.
Jiménez was the owner of Banco Peravia, based in the Dominican Republic, and was an accomplice to the illegal transactions. He admitted that he partnered with Gorrín and other people to acquire the bank in order to more easily launder the money from the bribes.
Jiménez was vice president of Banco Peravia, in the Dominican Republic, until 2014, when its executives were accused of fraud by the District Attorney’s Office of the Dominican Republic. Banco Peravia was embargoed by the Superintendency of Banks of that country for alleged fraud, illicit enrichment, and money laundering. Jimenez then fled the Dominican Republic to the United States.
The former nurse of Chávez
Another suspect is Claudia Díaz, Hugo Chávez’s former nurse, who also headed the National Treasury Office (ONT).
Diaz and her husband, Captain Adrián Velásquez Figueroa, received about USD $65 million from Gorrín’s personal account at the HSBC Private Bank in Switzerland, and from the accounts of companies registered in Panama.
According to the investigations carried out so far, Díaz accumulated a huge fortune during his time at the National Treasury of Venezuela and the country’s Development Fund (Fonden), between 2011 and 2013.
These are members of the so-called Venezuelan “boliburguesía,” an elite that has amassed fortunes during the Bolivarian Revolution led by Chavez. Now they are under intense scrutiny from US prosecutors.
For more than a decade in Venezuela, rigid exchange controls have been applied that have encouraged corruption by allowing a privileged few to buy foreign currency from the government at the official exchange rate and resell them on the black market, obtaining huge profits instantly.
More Boliburgueses who plundered Venezuela
On July 25, the United States dismantled a gang of millionaire criminals who laundered money and looted the state-owned PDVSA oil company. Meanwhile, the “justice department” of the South American country is not investigating what could amount to the biggest robbery in the history of Venezuela.
The lawsuit states that the embezzlement operation began in December 2014, with an original plan to launder around USD $600 million from the Venezuelan state oil company, money obtained “through bribes and fraud.” By May 2015, the amount of embezzled funds doubled to USD $1.2 billion.
The Office of the Prosecutor indicated that this scheme of corruption was facilitated by brokers, banks, and real estate investment firms in the United States and other countries.
The network of Chavez ex-civil servants lavished USD $1.2 billion of PDVSA funds in Florida, and not only Venezuelan citizens, but those of other nationalities were also involved.
The authorities indicated that so far two businessmen have been arrested: Matthias Krull, 44, a German citizen and Panamanian resident, and the Colombian Gustavo Adolfo Hernández Frieri, 45. Both were arrested in July 2018, in Miami, and in Sicily, respectively.
The defendants, who obtained the money thanks to the exchange rate distortion of Venezuela and access to the funds of the state PDVSA, mainly used Miami real estate to launder their ill-gotten riches, in addition to “sophisticated schemes of false investments.”