Upon posting the latest bit of research on Luis Oberto’s real estate activities through proxies in St Barths, a request for comment was sent to Bruno Magras, President of St Barths’ Territorial Council (effectively the island’s government). Monsieur le Président did reply, with the following message (bold added):
From: “Bruno Magras”
Subject: Re: Pour Mr Magras
Date: 25 January 2016 15:27:45 GMT
To: “Alek Boyd”
Votre message a retenu mon attention.
La Collectivite de Saint-Barthelemy ne dispose pas d’informations permettant de connaître l’origine des fonds de ces transactions. Saint-Barthelemy est un territoire français et est compétente uniquement en matière fiscale. En matière bancaire et financière, l’Etat français demeure pleinement compétent. Il assume également la mission d’enregistrer les transactions immobilières.
Toutefois, compte tenu des éléments que vous m’avez communiqué, je vais en informer les autorités françaises, afin qu’elles approfondissent le cas échéant les vérifications sur l’origine des fonds.
Enfin, je souhaiterais que vous retiriez mon nom de vos articles mis en ligne.
En m’associant aux accusations que vous portez contre M. Oberto, vous créez un risque d’amalgame.
Avec mes meilleures salutations
Mr Magras’ wishes of having his name removed from online articles, to avoid “amalgamation risks” (risque d'amalgame) that association with Luis Oberto may bring, are odd. To say the least. For as registry documents suggest, Mr Magras is, in fact, an associate of Luis Oberto. By authorizing Oberto to use a plot of land that belongs to him, Magras could well be an accessory in laundering funds that Oberto most likely misappropriated through corruption in Venezuela.
First, a bit of background is in order: Mesdames et Messieurs, je voudrais vous présenter Monsieur le President du Conseil Administratif de la collectivité de Saint Barthélémy, Chevallier de la Légion D’Honneur, Bruno Magras.
Mr Magras was honored in 2015, by none other than French President Francois Hollande, with one of France’s highest distinctions: Knight of The Legion of Honor (Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur). Besides alleged merits (according to Wikipedia “minimum 20 years of public service or 25 years of professional activity with “eminent merits””), it is worth bearing in mind the words French President Francois Hollande citing Monsieur Magras business exploits and career, and his alleged environmental credentials:
…votre île est exemplaire en matière de préservation de l’environment… vous avez bien servi Saint Barthélémy, vous avez bien servi la France… vous avez maîtrisé l'urbanisme...
Getting such a recognition is meant to be a seven-step process, whereby distinguished members of French society are chosen for their contribution and track record, and are subsequently checked and vetted at different stages, until the Council of the Order reaches a decision. This is then communicated to France’s President, who confirms the final list of honorees, sends list to Council of Ministers for approval, signs nomination and promotion decrees, and finally conducts proceedings in awards ceremony as shown in video.
However some of Mr Magras dealings, such as his association with Oberto, seem to have escaped French researchers. President Hollande surely missed Magras’s quote in Vanity Fair, with respect to conservationists opposing a hotel project similar to that of Oberto:
“Of course, some people would like everything to be green and to live with the little birds, the flowers… Some of them should go into the middle of the Amazon — you know what I mean — and live with the birds. That’s the best way. Because now they can build houses in trees.”
Some environmentalist, eh?
Mr Magras allegedly attacked a neighbour, as reported in page 3 of Le Journal de Saint-Barth of 11 September 2014, when Carole Perron d’Arc claimed that Magras threw a traffic cone that hit her in the face. A complaint for assault was filed against Magras, which was "countered" in turn with a defamation claim against her victim.
That kind of politics didn’t make it into the brief presented to the Legion’s Council either, and if it did, it was ignored.
Then there's an evident conflict of interests, between Magras the highest official in St Barths, and Magras the businessman. A recent report in Le Journal de St Barths (p. 8), claims that Saint-Barth Essentiel association is challenging the legality of a building permit -granted by the island's Terroritorial Council- to a shell controled by Luis Oberto (SCI Bucefalus).
Rightly so, the group claims there are "many irregularities" in granting permit. In fact, according to current law, a majority of the Council’s members (7 in total) must approve Council’s decisions. However, in a request presented by Oberto back in June 2014 that deals specifically with Magras’s plot (AE 1727), only three Council members voted in favour (Mr Benoit Chauvin abstained), meaning permit granted was not approved following legal requirements.
Another permit was granted to Oberto in December 2015, this time for plots AE 200, AE 201, and AE 202. Again, only three of the seven members of the Council voted in favour. Again Mr Benoit Chauvin abstained.
Bucefalus, read Oberto, purchased plot AE 200 for €2,000,000, from a Magras born 13/05/1943. The deal took place on 13/11/2012.
On the same date, Bucefalus also purchased plot AE 202, for €17,000,000. The plot belonged to the estate of Magras, composed by eight different people. Neither of them shares date of birth with Bruno Magras or his brother Michel.
Bucefalus also purchased plot AE 201, on 10/06/2013, for €900,000 from Blanchard & Peter.
But then, sources report that Magras gave an authorization to Oberto’s SCI Bucefalus in February 2014, so that building permits from St. Barth’s Territorial Council -presided by himself- for construction project of a 46-room hotel could be requested. Magras' authorisation was given four months before Oberto petitioned authorities. Rubber stamping doesn’t get any better than this.
Registry documents consulted suggest that plot AE 1727 still belongs to Bruno Magras, as reported in Le Journal de Saint-Barth.
In light of this information and Magras’ reply above, I followed it up with a further request, with respect to contact details of French officials alerted about likely illegitimate source of Oberto’s funds, and his direct involvement in this hotel affair:
From: Alek Boyd
Subject: Fwd: Pour Mr Magras
Date: 10 March 2016 23:08:58 GMT
To: Bruno Magras
Dear Mr Magras,
It has come to my attention that one of the plots that got planning permission for Oberto’s hotel project in Flamand actually belongs to you.
Could you please comment on precise amount you received from Oberto?
Are you aware of the consequences of partaking in business with an individual being investigated in various jurisdictions for money laundering?
Needless to say that I will be writing a follow up where these facts will be prominently featured. Should you have any comments in this respect, in addition to previous request below, please do send them at the earliest possible convenience.
Magras’ replied rather quickly this time:
From: “Bruno Magras”
Subject: Re: Pour Mr Magras
Date: 11 March 2016 18:11:35 GMT
To: “Alek Boyd”
Le 20 janvier dernier, vous m’avez transmis un message électronique, pour m’informer des éléments dont vopus disposiez sur des personnes ayant un projet de construction à Saint-Barthélemy.
Message auquel je vous ai répondu le 25 janvier 2016.
Suite à ce message et conformément à ce que je vous ai annoncé, j’ai adressé un courrier daté du 5 Février 2016 à Monsieur le Procureue de la République de Basse-Terre, dont dépend notre Collectivité en lui communiquant copie de votre message du 20 janvier 2016
S’agissant de la suite qui sera réservée à cette affaire, je vous confirme que dès lors qu’une enquête sera ouverte par les autorités judiciares françaises, je me ferai un plaisir de répondre à toutes questions que les enquêteurs seront amenés à me poser
Avec mes cordiales salutations,
To be absolutely clear, there is no evidence that Bruno Magras has sold property to Luis Oberto's Bucefalus. Though equally, there is irrefutable evidence of eight other Magras -are they relatives?- having taken €19,000,000 from Oberto. There is evidence of a building permit having been granted to Oberto for use of a plot (AE 1727) that belongs to Magras. There is evidence that all said permits are likely to have been granted illegally.
So what's the deal between Bruno Magras and Luis Oberto?
Researching this story I found that Bruno Magras is used to getting his way. The absence of proper checks and balances has been a blessing for Magras. While being St. Barths de facto supreme leader -Mayor between 1995–2007, and President of Territorial Council since- he’s also a successful businessman, with interests that have ranged from waste (municipal incinerator) to current construction materials, real estate and an airline. In his top civil servant capacity, Magras oversees all official aspects, including those that affect his private business interests.
Decorum and good governance dictate that neither Magras the politician, nor his relatives / associates, should have any official saying / participation in Magras’ business interests. Is that the case though?
Magras relies on loyal lieutenants. His younger brother Michel, member of St. Barth’s Council, is also a Senator in France. Another, a Christophe Beaupere, landed in St Barth sometime in 2008, after a stint in Vitrolles with Catherine Megret. Catherine husband is Bruno Megret, some say a radical politician to the right of former comrade Jean Marie Le Pen, from whose National Front party Megret split to form his own National Republican Movement.
Madame Megret was suspended from office for discrimination, and later sentenced to eight-months imprisonment for misappropriation of public funds (spent Vitrolles’ public funds on husband’s presidential bid).
Her lieutenant Beaupere was also involved, and got a four-month jail term.
“Christophe Beaupère est un garçon particulièrement efficace, loyal, et très honnêtement, je regrette de le perdre. Ses obligations familiales l’emmènent ailleurs. Parallèlement, sa jeunesse, ses ambitions comme ses compétences indéniables lui promettent un bel avenir. Il manquera également à la fédération UMP de St Barthélemy pour laquelle, par son abnégation et son travail, il représentait la pièce maitresse.”
St. Barths’ GDP estimations are based on apparent individual economic productivity and imports per inhabitant. Its latest figures (2010) put GDP per inhabitant at €35,700, one of the highest of France’s territories. Those numbers would suggest that its GDP does not exceed €350 million.
Little wonder, then, that people like Oberto, with “business” backgrounds linked to looting State assets and institutions, and personal fortunes that exceed the output of the entire island, receive the kind of official treatment they get. Magras does like to charm members of that breed: Russian "entrepreneur" Roman Abramovitch -where does his wealth come from again?- was named St. Barths’ “citoyen d’honneur”.
Politicos that remain in power for long periods are a threat, specially to accountability, whether it is in chic St Barths, or historic Havana. Power corrupts, as the saying goes, and so this Caribbean Gaston Flosse is used to getting his way in his fiefdom.
More worringly, St. Barths pristine environment does not appear to be a consideration to Magras’ oversized ambition.
- Will Basse-Terre Procureur launch a probe into this affair?
- Will French President Francois Hollande revisit his decision regarding Magras’ honorary award?
- Will French authorities take issue with use of St. Barths as a money laundering centre?
- Will Magras inescapable conflict of interests and disreputable associations ever be questioned, and challenged?
- And, will Oberto be able to explain source of funds to execute that project?
Note that, in his reply to second email, Magras does not even address the question about amount received from Oberto -charity perhaps?- nor does he mention anything pertaining his ownership of one of the plots where Oberto is to build a hotel. Equally interesting, his polite refusal to explain his involvement with Oberto.
Monsieur le Procureur de la République de Basse-Terre (Danielle Drouy-Ayral) has, of course, been asked to comment on Magras’ claim to have contacted her office. Whatever reply will be added as an update.
The architects in the employ of Oberto, Nicolas Gessat and Olivier Dain were also contacted to request comments on professional relations with Luis Oberto (see here, and here). Despite having discussed the issue with PR person Cecilia Pelloux, no reply has been received as of this writing.
Oberto’s “legal” representative in St. Barths is Chantal Decombe-Greaux, who is licensed to practice law in California. In the tradition of Oberto-related affairs, Decombe-Greaux does not have valid legal credentials to act as a lawyer in the Caribbean jurisdiction. Request for comments put to her remain unanswered.
And then comes the pièce de résistance. Request for comment sent to Oberto did elicit a reply, which I include below in full, as per his wishes:
From: Alek Boyd
Subject: Re: Respuesta a su correo 12/03/2016
Date: 16 March 2016 09:28:13 GMT
To: Luis Oberto
Dear Mr Oberto,
many thanks for your reply.
Given your willingness to go on record, to clarify what you perceive as inaccuracies, I suggest we start from the basics: since September 2013, I have written three articles focused on you and your business activities:
From the articles above, I invite you to address any false statements included therein while providing evidence to support your arguments.
In addition to the clarifications you may wish to send, I welcome your offer to grant me an interview. Your activities have garnered a considerable amount of interest beyond Venezuela’s borders. May I suggest we turn your offer into a press conference, where not only me, but any colleague (investigative blogger / journalist, law enforcement agents, etc.) could put any questions they may have to you? We could do this in Miami, as you suggest, and record the whole event: I will ensure that enough media, Venezuelan, American and European, are present to be worth your time. We may even include your brother/partner Ignacio.
As per signing an affidavit, this seems to me a very odd request. Investigative bloggers / journalists are not, in the normal course of their work, required to demonstrate to subject of investigations anything of the sort. However, I would be willing to give it a second thought, were you to give full and unrestricted access to any and all business accounts and activities you have been involved in, since your UnoValores days, so that I, and / or any other interested party that I choose to bring along, could verify and check whether what you are verbally claiming to be the truth of your business activities has any bearing with reality.
Now that I have your attention, I would like to ask some rather specific questions:
1. What amount exactly did you wire to vehicles controlled by Nervis Villalobos in commissions agreed in relation to the “line of credit” that through proxies you set up with PDVSA?
2. What amount exactly did you pay in bribes to Rafael Ramirez, either directly or through proxies, to get approval of your “line of credit” offer to PDVSA?
3. On the two previous points, what banks / accounts did you use, and to what banks / accounts did you instruct your bankers to wire the funds?
4. How and when did you meet Nervis Villalobos?
5. Ditto Juan Andres Wallis, Danilo Diaz Granados, Leonardo Gonzalez Dellan, Mariano Diaz, Raul Gorrin, Diego Lepage, Francisco D’Agostino, Victor Gill, Victor Vargas, Francisco Convit, and Charles Henry de Beaumont.
6. Please provide a detailed account of your current relationship with those mentioned above.
7. What comments have you got with regards to information from Andorra’s Prosecutor Office regarding your involvement in a scheme to syphon billions of dollars from PDVSA?
8. Why did you wind up Violet Advisors?
9. Whose Bolivares backed up your “line of credit” to PDVSA: your father in law’s? Victor Vargas? A “pool” of investors including Diaz Granados?
10. What’s the current status of your dealings with Andorran / Spanish / American authorities investigating the deal mentioned?
11. How and when did you first meet Bruno Magras?
12. Why did you decide to act through proxy Guillermo Pardo?
13. Why is it no longer the case?
14. What exactly is the nature of the arrangement between your Bucefalus shell and Magras in the hotel project in St Barths?
15. How much did you pay for the plots to be used?
16. How much did you pay to Nicolas Gessat and Olivier Dain for the project?
17. Is Hans Maissen involved?
18. Can you confirm that lawyers, from Greenberg Traurig, have been retained by Pardo in a legal dispute related to his involvement with you in St Barths?
19. Did you bribe, or make offers of in kind payments of any sort, to Magras, or to any authority in St Barths?
20. How did you explain to relevant French authorities origin of your funds?
21. Given your track record in business, how do you explain your real estate acquisitions in the USA?
22. How did you explain to relevant American parties origin of your funds?
23. Can you confirm that you are collaborating with US Federal Agencies?
24. Can you comment on a similar arrangement sought by your father in law?
25. What is your current immigration status in the USA?
I am planning to go public with an article related to your hotel venture by end of this week. Needless to say that I shall publish, without editions, your replies to the questions and issues proposed above.
From: Luis Oberto
Subject: 2nd reply 16/03/2016
Date: 17 March 2016 01:31:33 GMT
To: Alek Boyd
Mr. Alek Boyd
It is with a great deal of interest that I have received and read the concocted response you have sent to my reply from yesterday. Your answer clearly shows your total disregard for seeking in a professional and unbiased manner to shed light on the matters of your personal interest.
Once again let me reiterate in all its contents my email from yesterday. In that regard let me walk you through the following points:
1. Thank you for confirming that in three years time that you have devoted a great deal of your time and efforts to this campaign against me and my family you have never attempted to make contact with me before. Then come some of the obvious questions, which you do not respond: a. How curious and why, is it now that you are so eager to allow me to give you my side of the story; b. If you are interested in me and my business endeavors –as you indicate in your response- why you have systematically used images of my wife and other family members –besides my brother- totally unconnected to this matter as part of your materials?; c. What is the real interest behind it?; d. Who are behind your sustained efforts?; e. Who pays you for your time, your name and your efforts?; f. Why is it that you produce “specially packaged” so called articles to be posted and hung at other and specific websites as part of this concerted effort?; g. Under what authority –I have already told you yesterday I do not consider you a journalist- and in the interest of who or what you have been sending unsolicited letters to third parties attaching your writings without haven’t ever attempted to contact me before?, just to pose some of the questions that initially come to my mind.
2. Let me reiterate my professional offer to grant you a personal interview –including the previous signing and execution of an affidavit clearly stating that you have not received or will not receive directly or thru third parties any payment, in money or in kind, for this sustained effort of yours- and to that effect I have suggested two possible venues –Caracas or Miami- to cover the full ground of this subject matter of great interest to you. Obviously and evidently from your reply you are not interested in pursuing this in a professional and unbiased fashion and instead you offer me more of the same you have given us so far: a little entertainment and that circus of yours as you propose it in your email. I am afraid I am not interested in that. Therefore, if you are genuinely interested in pursuing this matter in a professional way I cannot see a better means of doing it than in a direct and personal interview with the coverage of the full ground of the matters that you say are of interest to you.
3. Your email and most certainly your upcoming sequel (“… TBC”- “to be continued”…) of your previous writings are plagued –just as all the previous ones- with utterly false and misleading affirmations which are certainly part of your concerted efforts to divert attention to the real events and actors behind this matter, so they can escape from the regulatory, public and/or private scrutiny that will be forthcoming. You certainly seem to be a part of this scheme.
Finally, you have chosen very conveniently the “secrecy” and “privacy” of emails to communicate with me. Once again, I ask you to post in conjunction with your utterly false and misleading upcoming writing and on your blog and on your Twitter account and, or on the website(s) that may reproduce this material, the complete and unedited exchange of emails that we have both produced so far, for which I am again providing English and Spanish versions respectively. It is intriguing nonetheless that you do not intend to do so since these have been the only direct statements from me directed to you in response of your new interest –after three years- in obtaining my side of this story, as you call it. However, this exchange –whether you publish it or not in its entirety or at all- will remain here for the record.
Once again, rest reassured that I am looking forward to meeting with you in person either in Caracas or Miami -at your convenience- even though you evidently do not show any interest for it.
Luis Alfonso Oberto
To say that Oberto's reply baffles would be an understatement. Note that not one of my 25 questions was addressed, dodging seems to be the running theme here. Given the chance to provide a point-by-point rebutal of my previous articles got nothing. Absolutely nothing, apart from threats and preposterous requests.
It reminds of that other instance, when the father of Derwick's Alejandro Betancourt offered an all-expenses-paid trip to Caracas, to check that power plants had been installed and were in working order. Constant blackouts would say otherwise, but I'm digressing.
Is this the way boligarchs think they can deal with legitimate scrutiny? I mean, really? Is this the best these "extraordinarily clever and successful businessmen", and their expensive advisors, can come up with?
Not all is lost though, point 3 of Oberto's reply, is worth highlighting "...your concerted efforts to divert attention to the real events and actors behind this matter, so they can escape from the regulatory, public and/or private scrutiny that will be forthcoming."
It's almost a certainty that Oberto will read this: is this a suggestion that he is, somehow, someone else's proxy? Who are "the real events and actors behind" the matter? Furthermore, how does my exposing his deals help perpetrators escape forthcoming scrutiny? Is this to do with the alleged collaboration with Federal Agencies Oberto is involved in?
Quite frankly, I'd like to help authorities some more: to the €19,900,000 plus spent in plots and other activities in St Barths, Oberto -or his masters- have also incurred in other real estate purchases in the U.S.:
Registry records also show that Oberto's Bucefalus appears to be owned by a couple of shells registered in Delaware in September 2012, EUODOOO LLC and HOSPES LLC, perhaps authorities behind that "forthcoming scrutiny" would like to find out who's behind those.
Oberto says he is not interested in, erm, clearing his name. I can't think of a better way than a press conference in Miami, read a place where there's no media censorship or regime-sponsored paramilitary gangs terrorising journalists, to do so. However I also happen to know that the newly formed Audit Committee of Venezuela's Congress is, particular and specifically, eager to get to the bottom of that PDVSA - Andorra deal, in which Oberto is involved.
Given Oberto's claim pertaining his willingness to meet in either Caracas or Miami, the question is: would he agree to meet me, in Caracas, along with members of Congress' Audit Committee?