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Venezuela: largest corruption scandal world has never heard of

Every journalist / media outlet out there is partial to its causes. When it comes to corruption, and specifically to graft in resource rich countries, there is little that is not known, that is doesn't form part of an ever evolving narrative particular to the field. Every person remotely acquainted with large scale corruption would have heard (by now) about Russia, Nigeria, DRC, Odebrecht in Brazil, China, Panama Papers, FIFA, Switzerland, London, Daniel Ortega, the Kirchners, HSBC actively helping Mexican narcos launder money, David Cameron and Greensill, Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump... Even when the nitty-gritty may escape the majority, the main countries and actors are known. When it comes to Venezuela though, very little has transpired. Household names (to some of us), don't elicit as much as a raised eyebrow. Mention Rafael Ramirez to "corruption experts" and most would reply with "Rafael who?"

Some must-read books have been published in the past year. Bellingcat, Tom Burgis, Javier Blas and Jack Farchy, and -by far our favourite- Catherine Belton's have published on the topic. The common feature in all four corruption-related works is the near absolute absence of mentions to Venezuela. This goes beyond the mentioned, and includes work of NGOs, such as Global Witness, ICIJ, Transparency International, etc.

Nobody seems to be aware of the chavista thread, present and unavoidable in nearly all major corruption scandals of the last two decades. The reason is simple: arguably, no country on earth has seen the sort of looting that chavismo imposed and promoted as a matter of State policy in Venezuela. Take China for instance. A lot has been said, and will continue to be said, about the way Chinese leadership has cornered the world's resources. China's quiet economic imperialism not only has established control in much of resource-rich Africa, but that came as a part of a multi-pronged strategy of securing control of infrastructure needed to ensure that whatever the output is it reaches Chinese ports / airports without a glitch.

China was an early taker of Hugo Chavez's multipolar world philosophy. Billions were transferred to Venezuela. Hundreds of bilateral agreements were signed. Joint ventures -manned by Chinese workers- were so many, varied and widespread that Venezuela's ethnicity is going to change. Corruption has been the underpinning religion. China's likes their partners to be as corrupt as they are. In Venezuela's case, even worse. Tens of billions in exchange for easy access to untapped reserves guaranteed plenty of opportunities for the utterly corrupt, on both sides. This is were Rafael slotted in. As concurrent Minister of Energy and PDVSA's CEO for over a decade, he managed an income in excess of $1.3 trillion. It is not a typo, we're talking over a TRILLION.

Yet, Rafael lives in Rome, in a flat he got as a bribe from Nervis Villalobos, one of his favourite operators. This site has communicated to Italian authorities precise details that show the entire chain of corruption evidence linking the two to multibillion dollar money laundering schemes. While authorities are often incapable and unwilling to act on such intelligence, the media is generally more receptive. Alas not in Rafael's case. No Italian media seems interested in exposing him. Ditto their American counterparts, and let's not even mention those NGOs that allegedly seek out cases of this sort.

PDVSA, by any standard one of the world's largest energy conglomerates, is sorely missing in nearly all work that has been published about corruption in the last decade. The fact that it is close to complete collapse, and its output has gone back to unrecognisable levels doesn't arise any interest either. Petrobras we've heard about. Pemex? Same. But about historically the largest -by a country mile- of all Latin American oil companies? Nah, Blas & Farchy weren't interested, when they were researching the characteristic criminal behaviour of the most powerful commodity traders depicted in their book. This despite the fact that most of them have traded billions with PDVSA.

Take another household name: Dan Gertler. He gets a bad rap, all over, for his corrupt practices in African countries. He gets that because he's Jewish, of course, and because Israel -where he is based- is the woke's favourite baddy. But Gertler's deals are the stuff of amateurs, compared to what Francisco Morillo has done with PDVSA with the cream of the crop of commodity traders based in Switzerland. Does that get any attention? Nah. Nothing to see there.

Take yet another one: Putin and its FSB praetorian force. They’ve done a phenomenal amount of business in Venezuela, all corrupt. Billions worth. The interplay of FSB's involvement in energy deals between Venezuela's State-owned oil company and Russian majors such as Rosneft and Gazprom interests this site only. Nobody else finds it worth of further enquiries. Ditto presence of Wagner mercenaries in Venezuela. Anywhere else is of interest, but if it is Venezuela, then Wagner becomes like White Helmets: there only to help.

The lack of basic interest is astounding, and as much as we try to find plausible and reasonable justification, we can not. Attacks on the media are almost universally condemned. The journalists fraternity always comes to succour brethren, wherever they are, whatever they are reporting on. When extraordinary things happen -like international operations to silence and terrorise- to those of us exposing what nobody wants to expose, no sympathy is to be found. 

It is fortunate and unfortunate at the same time that investigations published in this site over the years are devoured by American Federal Agencies and law enforcement. Fortunate, because they are the only ones with the reach and balls to go after criminals regardless of jurisdiction. Unfortunate, because despite piles of evidence at their disposal, very few indictments take place, often punishment doesn’t meet crime, and most of those involved are never persecuted. This is were thugs like Rudy Giuliani, or Fusion GPS, come into play: in America -like everywhere else- if the money is right and the access is good, everything can be bought, Attorney General’s connivance included. And, most frustratingly, when our investigations do generate arrests -like in the case of Alex Saab, politics and banana republics fight justice every single step of the way. 

We often ponder about law enforcement's lack of action and engagement. For when it comes to Venezuela, it isn't a case of lack of evidence, quite the contrary. But when criminal probes can be stopped, or altogether dismissed, by good old lobbying from the Giulianis, Adam Kaufmanns and Abbe Lowells of this world, what hope is there for places like Spain, where the AG just happens to be the girlfriend of a barred and disgraced lawyer on chavismo's payroll? If that wasn't scandalous enough, Spain's Vice President, until very recently, was another employee of chavismo. A former Prime Minister of France was also retained by chavista thugs.

While Italian authorities indict, seize assets, and put Alex Saab's lover and proxies on the run, their Swiss counterparts -requested by U.S. Department of Justice to act against same criminals for same crimes- have a policy of see no evil. Billions of dollars looted from Venezuela have been laundered in Switzerland by its banking establishment. Arguably, every last dollar originating in Venezuela that's reached Switzerland in the last 20 years is likely proceeds of corruption, but Swiss authorities and watchdogs are yet to issue the first indictment. Black money just materialise in Swiss banks, it is not created, earned, generated, syphoned, stolen elsewhere, no. It just gets there, and when questions are asked Endri Gega type of "public prosecutors" are quick to dismiss. Alas it is not just Switzerland, we could argue the same about the UK, where Venezuelan money launderers buy protection and legitimacy by donating to the Tory party (Labour are equally corrupt).

An absolute silence shrouds these stories. We have all heard about 1MDB, yet the figures mentioned are a paltry sum, next to what Derwick Associates have been involved in. Have you heard about them? Most probably not. There's only a handful of people, worlwide, researching, documenting and exposing Venezuelan corruption. Even less than that doing it systematically, in English. What's already known leads us to the conclusion that Venezuela is the 21st Century largest corruption scandal, but what we know is only a fraction, like with icebergs. Imagine what would happen if Venezuelan authorities were to apply to PDVSA what America did to ENRON, or if the world's investigative media were to tackle chavismo with zeal applied to Mossack Fonseca.

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