The correct thing to do, in relation to billions of dollars reportedly schemed by a number of companies contracted to solve the power crisis in Venezuela, is to allow them to have their say. As such, I sent a few communications yesterday to IMPSA, an Argentine conglomerate whose activities have been singled out by Venezuelan experts as exhibit A of enormous overbilling in the execution of public infrastructure works. Case in point Tocoma, fourth dam in a series in the lower Caroní river, being built by a consortium (Odebrecht, Impregilo & Vinccler) and in which IMPSA was the chosen contractor to build and install 10 Kaplan turbines. IMPSA claims that it will be the largest such work in the world. So far, so perfect for PR right?
Not knowing what to make of claims of corruption about IMPSA and his CEO Enrique Pescarmona (pictured), I started researching the topic. First port of call was Mabel Renhfeldt, editor of ABC Paraguay, with whom I have done extraordinary work in the past. Mabel said that in Paraguay Pescarmona tried to close a dodgy deal (negociado) and when ABC Paraguay found out an investigation was launched. According to ABC Paraguay, Pescamona and his IMPSA conglomerate were brought in to build Aña Cua dam, thanks to lobbying efforts of Argentina's utterly corrupt Minister of Planning and Public Investment Julio de Vido, in a process plagued by corruption. Pescarmona's business practices include, when questions started to be raised, pretending with Yacireta -binational authority that runs dam in Argentina-Paraguay border- to own the intellectual property behind the building of a project in Aña Cua, and therefore any subsequent undertaking in that location would either have to be carried out by his company -IMPSA- or Yacireta would have to pay him IP compensation -should any other contractor carry out the work. Needless to say that Pescarmona was laughed out of that project in Paraguay. But he did not stop just there. Reportedly the project was worth $420 million, so Pescarmona made sure to issue legal threats to all and sundry. There are hundreds of reports of Pescarmona and corruption in ABC Paraguay, certainly worth a visit.
Findings in Paraguay led me down to other paths. I tried to communicate with IMPSA to ask questions, and sent an email firstly to Carla Paira, IMPSA's Corporate Communications person. That email was returned for some reason. But I had found a different one, in a website called leakymails1 that has details of Pescarmona's meetings with Julio de Vido's private secretary. So to corroborate that bit of info, I sent an email to that address (email@example.com) and voilá! got a few replies.
IMPSA offered to meet me in person to explain how Tocoma's work is going. IMPSA wanted my address, telephone number and details of media I represent. IMPSA also sent me copies of communications purportedly sent to Colombia's Semana and Spain's El Pais, refuting my interpretation of expert Jose Aguilar's views, and claiming that IMPSA got its Tocoma contract "through a public international bidding process, supported by Inter-American Development Bank and the Development Bank of Latin America". IMPSA also claims that all works / deliverables are up to date, and to my question about which other companies had participated in the bidding, IMPSA claimed that its model of turbine "obtained greater performance and efficiency". IMPSA denies having anything to do with Guri. IMPSA also refutes there's something untoward in relation to the granting of Tocoma contract -let's pretend here that Pescarmona never had anything to do with Julio de Vido, or with Guido Antonini, and that he never claimed that the Kirchners helped him in Venezuela.
Communications to me (even through Twitter) and other media (as per copy received) have been cordial enough. But what to make of threatening email sent to expert Jose Aguilar by Jose Alberto Perez, IMPSA legal counsel, placing him on notice that should he not retract or correct opinions in 48 hours legal proceeding will be issued? This stinks of Paraguay all over again. IMPSA's legal threat did not specify which arguments or claims attributed to expert Aguilar by me are incorrect, false or defamatory. He is urged to rectify "veracity of affirmations" attributed to him by Fanny Kertzman and myself. This is a laugh really. I don't know about expert Jose Aguilar, but I will say this: you want to take me to court Mr Pescarmona? Please do. Pick place and time (caveat: Argentinean and Venezuelan kangaroo courts aren't valid).
One mistake can be forgiven. Two, maybe. Alas for Pescarmona and his IMPSA joint, there are press reports, from Argentina to Paraguay, to Venezuela, even to Malaysia, where another project in which Pescarmona's IMPSA was involved was called -by Transparency International no less- a "Monument to Corruption". There's a well documented, trail of corruption and payment of kickbacks by IMPSA. Pescarmona is one of those Latin American "entrepreneurs" whose unique ability seems to be to exploit his power relations with the highest officials in different governments. We are not talking about a captain of industry, but a robber baron here. A mercantilist. Someone whose modus operandi is: offer bribes > get corrupt politicos to lobby / grant contracts > cash in by inflating prices > if there's criticism sue > rinse and repeat. A patron with such a screwed moral compass to claim publicly: "the President is the president, he can do whatever he pleases." In the words of Peter Eigen, Chairman of Transparency International, “Corruption in large-scale public projects is a daunting obstacle to sustainable development... Corruption in procurement plagues both developed and developing countries... When the size of a bribe takes precedence over value for money, the results are shoddy construction and poor infrastructure management. Corruption wastes money, bankrupts countries, and costs lives.”
So I guess I will see you in court, eh Mr