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PDVSA Weaves a Tangled Web of Beneficiaries

By Casto Ocando | The Miami Herald

Posted Tuesday, 12 April 2005 | Second in a series | The beneficiaries of the multimillion-dollar commissions paid for the marketing of Petróleos de Venezuela (PdVSA) crude oil and petroleum products have made use of a sophisticated network of political, financial and family connections in order to negotiate and assure payment into a dozen bank accounts in four countries.

Information obtained by El Nuevo Herald concerning secret documents and sources familiar with the operations of the oil conglomerate indicate that high-level PdVSA personnel and middlemen maintain ties with regional and national leaders of the official government parties who support the government of Hugo Chávez, among them the MVR (Movimiento V República) and the Podemos party.

The payment of these commissions may well constitute a serious violation of Venezuelan laws, including the Constitution of 1999 and the Anti-Corruption Law, so affirmed by experts.

At the same time there exist family connections linking high officials in the National Armed Force.

In addition to the first cousin of president Chávez, Asdrúbal Chávez, who directs PdVSA marketing operations in the Department of Marketing and Supplies, also working there is an employee by the name of Nora Valderrama, who is a relative of the Minister of Defence, General Jorge García Carneiro.

According to the secret documents, the middlemen have political connections in the states of Barinas, Carabobo, Capital District, Táchira and Zulia:

• From Barinas appears the middlewoman Isabel del Carmen González Cortez (Identification Card, C.I. 8.130.756), who has title to a bank account at Ocean Bank in Miami.

• From Carabobo appears Alexis Oropeza (C.I. 4.723.714), a leader from one of the official government parties and former constituent assembly deputy linked to the MAS party and who has title to an account at Commerce Bank in Miami.

• En the Capital District appears Claudio Alberto Albarracín Mistaje (C.I. 4.882.864) considered a key middleman with strong connections with the Department of Marketing and Supplies.

• In Táchira there are four persons receiving commissions:

Josué David Moros Puentes (C.I. 3.430.653), a businessman who had ties with the Acción Democrática opposition party in San Cristóbal but who has developed important ties with official government party leaders in the Andean region.

Also appearing are Antonio Felipe Bueno Duque (C.I. 2.875.022) and Luis Humberto Fernández Sayago (C.I. 3.308.777). Neither of these two signed in support of the referendum against Chávez.

One of the middlemen, who appears in the contracts as José Omar Umaña Suárez, is shown to have an identification card (4.627.864) which really belongs to Algimiro Carrero Zambrano, according to the Venezuelan Permanent Electoral Registry (Registro Electoral Permanente, REP). This person did not vote in the recall referendum.

• In Zulia there is Blanca Omaira Gómez de Fernández (C.I. 3.621.325), who holds title to an account at Washington Mutual in Miami.

• Middlemen Mohamed Al Atrache (C.I. 13.0230497), Juan Manuel Blázquez Granda (C.I. 10.484.107) and Carlos Enrique Vera Balbuena (C.I. 9.114.256) appear as representatives of The Hiller Group Incorporated, with headquarters in Tampa, Florida and their signatures appear affixed to a contract for assuring commissions in the sale of petroleum products.

• Finally there appears a citizen of Colombian origin named Jairo de Jesús Londoño Castaño (passport 19359390) who has title to an account at the RBTT Banco de Aruba, number 12.88.725. In the contract there appears a transfer code RBTTAWAW routed toward Wachovia Bank in New York, which in turn has another transfer code PNPBPUS3NNYC. The routing code is 026005092.

PdVSA sources who understand these operations said that several of these middlemen act as representatives for the political leaders in their respective states and made important contributions during the past regional elections.

The confidential documents reveal that the operations would be initiated whenever a high level employee of the state-owned oil company guaranteed a crude oil or fuel quota with the intention of having the middleman go out and make offers mainly to representatives of firms registered with PdVSA under a registry known as RUCCVE.

The middlemen availed themselves of a network of employees to initiate the contact with possible buyers by means of telephone calls and emails.

Once contacted, the firm had to send a Letter of Intention (LOI) and a contract to assure the commissions, the Fee Protection Agreement (FPA), in most cases with an electronic signature and "the original notarised documents", thus read the instructions sent by one of these middlemen.

The final step is the signing of the delivery contract carried out by a legal representative of the firm in Venezuela.

Contacted by El Nuevo Herald, traders who do business with PdVSA said that hundreds of offers of Venezuela petroleum products circulate monthly within the spheres of international petroleum, as never before.

In an email of 30 November 2004, a petroleum trader based in Panama sought from a female executive of a middleman firm with headquarters in Caracas access to products on behalf of clients duly registered at PdVSA.

In an earlier email, the woman executive led him to believe that she had a “close relation" with a high-level executive of Deltaven, a subsidiary of PdVSA which markets petroleum derivatives such as fuels and lubricants.

In another email dated 6 March of this year, an executive of the firm Mercasur Pacific offers services to its clients "who wish to buy crude oil or derivatives, especially D2 (diesel)” and clarifies that “conditions of price, discount and commissions depend on product requested.” The message shouts out the warning that “shipments to the U.S.A. are not accepted.”

In a recent offer through the Internet, dated this past 22 March, an individual seller writes the following email: "Special Offer. Dear Sir/Madam: Being offered from Venezuela, FOB - Platt Golfo 2'400.000 TM per year for three more years. Gross discount $2.10. Net discount $1.26. If interested LOI + BCL required. Best Regards."

Another offer sent by email specifies that in the sales contract “with respect to the price for the whole operation, included are the commissions or Consulting Fees, which means that we have a great deal before us."

They then clarify that “it goes without saying that these firms, as it pertains to their board of directors, cannot nor should they have signed against the president of Venezuela, nor are they supposed to have contributed to the opposition and they are must have the ability to make payment.”

According to Venezuelan economist and petroleum expert Orlando Ochoa, “PdVSA management has not presented an audited report of balances and operations since 2003. This is an ideal habitat for corruption to spread itself with absolute impunity."

Translation by W.K.

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