After an investigation, the NGO Transparency International Venezuela detected irregularities in the management of resources intended to assist military defectors and their families in Cucuta, who fled the Chavista dictatorship on 23rd February after an appeal made by interim President Juan Guaido.
Following a report by PanAm Post co-editor-in-chief Orlando Avendaño, titled Guaido’s Envoys Appropriate Funds for Humanitarian Aid in Colombia, the NGO undertook an investigation to confirm or deny the findings of the article.
In its conclusions, Transparency Venezuela confirms that there were inconsistencies in the handling of funds by interim President Guaido’s envoys, who were responsible for the temporary maintenance of the soldiers who arrived in Cucuta.
Primer Informe | Veeduría de la denuncia sobre irregularidades del llamado caso Cúcuta
— Transparencia Vzla (@NoMasGuiso) September 18, 2019
Avendaño’s report points out that Kevin Rojas and Rossana Barrera inflated the number of military personnel, presenting a figure of more than 1,450 officials when in reality they were close to 700. It also shows that they incurred “expenses of more than 3,000,000 pesos in Colombian hotels and clubs per night,” presenting “extraordinary” bills that do not correspond to the facts.
Irregularities discovered by the NGO
The NGO report indicates that in the complaints presented to the Colombian Attorney General’s Office by Humberto Calderon Berti, Venezuelan Ambassador to Colombia, there are ” significant inconsistencies” in the collections presented by Barrera to justify the excessive expenses.
The NGO interviewed the persons involved and recorded and systematized the information published on this topic in well-known publications to compile the report. It also made use of records of statements made by the competent authorities.
Besides, it requested copies of invoices, payments, backups, audit reports, formal complaints related to this situation and conducted interviews with Calderon Berti and the two officials involved. The NGO was informed that the money under investigation was collected through donations from private individuals and foundations.
The report presented by Transparencia Venezuela states that Kevin Rojas claimed that they were formally in charge of 147 officials, but that as of 9th March 2019 “they began to assist officials and family members to whom UNHCR could no longer offer maintenance.”
The NGO also states that although Barrera and Rojas claim to have provided “detailed reports” on the expenditures and needs of the military, the documents “sealed, signed and received were not provided for this oversight.”
There are “duplicate invoices, bank transfers without indicating the account holder, copies of intelligible invoices, and hotel bills with payment details that are not included in the statement of expenses.”
Transparencia Venezuela’s investigation reiterates that although these are not funds destined for the humanitarian aid of Venezuelans on the border, it is money intended to help the military members who fled the dictatorship.
One of the arguments presented by the interim government of Juan Guaido, his party, activists, and Rossana Barrera and Kevin Rojas themselves to try to demerit the investigation was that “the resources used to assist the military are not part of the Venezuelan public funds.”
In fact, on 17th June, Guaido told the press that “the money is not part of the funds donated by foreign governments, multilateral entities, nor of cooperation funds for humanitarian aid.”
Transparency International writes, “In the face of these facts, and the initial assertions that money is not part of the public funds, the following considerations need to be made:”
” In other words, any resources assigned to an official attached to a public body or entity for the performance of a public function of interest to the nation is public money, and it must be subject to registration, verification, evaluation, and security in operations,” reads the NGO report.
The report also highlights “discrepancies concerning the payment of hotels and other expenses.” However, as always, the report concludes that the information “Colombian authorities must analyze the information.”
The report also states that “it is necessary to make it clear that, although the circumstances in which the facts are presented to you are exceptional, the disorder and lack of coordination observed undermines transparency in public management.”
The text speaks of conflict of interest because Rossana Barrera, the one directly accused in Avendaño’s investigation, “is the sister-in-law of Popular Will party deputy Sergio Vergara, interim President Juan Guaidó’s right-hand man.”
In this regard, Transparency International stresses that “Familial relations affect the performance of the public function. It cannot be allowed due to conflict of interest, even in the most difficult circumstances.”
Several of the documents presented to justify the management of resources by the envoys were “without signatures or stamps or dates.”
Transparency International is categorical in stating that, although the article speaks of “humanitarian aid” funds, “no information has been obtained on the responsibility of the two people identified in this area.” Also, on its his Twitter account, the organization emphasized that the PanAm Post made the mistake of “attributing competencies over the handling of humanitarian aid to people who were only in charge of military/police assistance.” Regarding this point, the journalist Avendaño emphasized in several interviews that his article never referred to Barreras and Rojas as handling food donated by the United States, but was clear that “they were funds destined for humanitarian aid.” “In other words, assistance to the military.”
“If assisting them is not humanitarian aid, what do we call it? Charity,” he said in an interview with Union Radio.
Finally, the report provides recommendations to the Government of Juan Guaido:
However, Transparency International’s work never seeks to determine what really happened in Cucuta with regard to the handling of humanitarian aid, since “these considerations await the results of the investigation carried out by the Attorney General’s Office of Colombia, which is the competent body to clarify and provide verified information on these events that occurred in its territory.”
After the NGO issued the report, the Guaido government “thanked” the diligence and assured that “no humanitarian aid input or resource has been affected.” “We assume the responsibilities, recommendations, and proposals of the investigation, which point to the insufficiency of appropriate criteria and the inadequate processes for the management of the resources destined for the military and their families,” reads the statement of the interim president.
GOBIERNO LEGÍTIMO AGRADECE TRABAJO DE ONG TRANSPARENCIA INTERNACIONAL PARA ESCLARECER DENUNCIAS DE IRREGULARIDADES EN TORNO A FONDOS DESTINADOS A MILITARES VENEZOLANOS EN CÚCUTA pic.twitter.com/MKOO8UhTYB
— Centro de Comunicación Nacional (@Presidencia_VE) September 18, 2019
Although the Guaido administration claims that “no humanitarian aid input or resource was affected,” it is established that the money was destined for military aid; a fund that would ultimately have been embezzled.