The plot of former vice ministers of Hugo Chávez (1999-2013) investigated for looting the state company Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) collected 216.7 million dollars in commissions in Andorra from an insurance contract of the public energy company, according to documents to the that EL PAÍS has had access.
The money from the premiums landed between 2008 and 2010 in a web of accounts in the Banca Privada d’Andorra (BPA) and accounted for 40% of the 534.3 million dollars disbursed in 2005 by the Venezuelan oil company for a biannual contract of reinsurance. An activity in which an insurer assigns part of its risks to others to diversify million-dollar losses.
The alleged mastermind of the looting network, businessman Diego Salazar, who is a cousin of former Petroleum Minister and former PDVSA president Rafael Ramírez, received 202 million in commissions through his front man, Luis Mariano Rodríguez Cabello. And businessman Omar Farías, known as the Venezuelan insurance czar, pocketed 14.7 million in premiums for the contract.
The Andorran judge Stéphanie García charged last May an alleged crime of money laundering to the two PDVSA subsidiaries that ordered the payments: PDV Insurance Company Ltd -based in the tax haven of Bermuda- and Petrocedeño Offshore Operating CC. The magistrate is also investigating a firm in the United Kingdom and two other Colombian companies linked to the multinational reinsurance brokerage Cooper Gay. These are the companies Cooper Gay & Co Ltd., Cooper Gay Suramérica Ltda. And Cooper Gay Colombia Ltda.
The Panamanian reinsurance company Cgc Ltda. Inc., which is also charged with money laundering, played a key role in channeling the commissions. The firm collected between 2008 and 2010 in the BPA a total of 534 million dollars from the two subsidiaries of PDVSA under a contract with the Colombian subsidiary of the insurance company Cooper Gay. Only 250 million of this sum ended up in a Cooper Gay UK account. The rest, 284.4 million, traveled through a complicated tangle of accounts that converged on Salazar, Farías and Cgc Ltda Inc.
The businessman Luis Mariano Rodríguez Cabello, Diego Salazar’s front man, entered the Andorran financial institution with the most succulent commission: 202 million. The investigations have proven that from Rodríguez Cabello’s account in the name of the Panamanian company Highland Assets Corp, alleged bribes were paid to former executives of the oil company. This was the case of Reinaldo Ramírez, former head of PDVSA Salud and Hugo Chávez’s former personal physician; Fidel Darío Ramírez, former Head of Assistance and brother of former Minister of Petroleum Rafael Ramírez; Eudomario Carrullo, former financial director; Francisco Jiménez Villaroel, former director in China of the energy company or Julia Van den Brule, former delegate of PDVSA in Spain and Portugal.
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Money route and Chavista hierarchs
Salazar’s straw man also transferred funds from the Pyrenean principality to José Ramón Arias, former president of PDVSA Engineering and Construction; Luis Abraham Bastidas, former Logistics Manager; Rubén Figueras, former director of the Orinoco Oil Belt; Carmelo Urdaneta, general director of legal advice of the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum between 2009 and 2010 or José Luis Parada, former director of Production and Exploitation of the oil company.
A confidential report from October 2020 from the Andorran Financial Intelligence Unit (Uifand) – a public body in the Pyrenean country that pursues money laundering – considers that the BPA account of Cgc Ltda. Inc., the firm that received the 534 , 3 million from PDVSA, had the “sole purpose” to facilitate the state oil company to former Venezuelan leaders. And it places Salazar as the strong man of Chavismo who controlled PDVSA’s reinsurance premiums.
“The triangulation of funds through the account would have allowed the client (PDVSA) and the reinsurer (Cooper Gay & Co Ltd.) to be separated from commission agents Omar Farías and Diego Salazar”, indicates the Uifand in a document cited by the Andorran magistrate Stéphanie García to justify the accusation of laundering of the representatives of Cgc Ltda. Inc. They are the Colombians Luis Alberto Granados, Zulma Vianeth Sanabria and Daniel Germán Zamora. The Colombian Prosecutor’s Office investigated the latter in 2015 for money laundering and misappropriation, according to Andorran authorities.
The investigations of the Pyrenean principality also point to the responsibility of the multinational Cooper Gay in the financial scheme that channeled the commissions of the Chavista plot. “Representatives of Cooper Gay South America (formerly Cooper Gay Colombia) would have played an active role in the creation of this corporate network and in the management of the account of Cgc Ltda. Inc.”, the investigations indicate.
Uifand also questions a 2005 technical advisory contract signed between the Panamanian reinsurance firm and Cooper Gay Colombia and that was presented in the BPA to justify the millionaire transfers. And he defines Farías Luces as a plotter of the operation that forged the commercial relationship between the Venezuelan energy company and Cooper Gay. “This operation could not have been completed without the payment of commissions to PDVSA’s executive staff,” sums up the Andorran organization.
A spokesperson for Farías tells EL PAÍS that the businessman’s accounts in Andorra were opened to collect “legal and transparent” reinsurance commissions. It ensures that all its transactions, including transfers to the mastermind of the plot, Diego Salazar, are “duly backed and sustained” by commercial activities. And he adds that neither Farías nor his companies are under the focus of the investigation in Venezuela and the United States, where the movements of part of the organization that plundered the state oil company are being tracked.
In May 2020, the Andorran judge investigating PDVSA’s commissions charged the Venezuelan company ISB de Corretaje de Reaseguros CA, which appeared as the owner of an account in the Farías BPA that moved 25 million between 2009 and 2010. The businessman paid paid from Andorra in June 2009 a total of 268,803 dollars to the Gerais II jewelry store in Caracas.
This newspaper has tried unsuccessfully to collect the versions of PDVSA, Cooper Gay and the Panamanian firm Cgc Ltda. Inc.
Salazar and Farías, the two Venezuelans who cashed in with PDVSA’s reinsurance contract, have been prosecuted since 2018 in Andorra along with some thirty people for belonging to an organization that looted 2,000 million euros from the oil company. The investigations place them at the epicenter of a network that between 2007 and 2012 collected bribes from companies that were later awarded millionaire awards from the energy company during the terms of former President Hugo Chávez (1999-2013). The plot, to which former Chavista vice ministers Nervis Villalobos and Javier Alvarado belonged, hid its loot 7,400 kilometers from Caracas, in the BPA. An entity intervened in March 2015 for allegedly acting as a money launderer for criminal groups.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.