Chavista propaganda brings disrepute to Foreign Policy

Got late to the party, must admit. The discussion at hand is -yet another- exhibit of yellow journalism, this time by the otherwise reputed Foreign Policy magazine.

In short, a propagandist of the Maduro regime was caught, as we say, "cagando y sin papel". Before anyone thinks that my use of the term propagandist is inaccurate, or unfair, here we have Mr Rob Lovato, described as a "writer and scholar", who does not find relevant to disclose to publications that presumably commission jobs to him, to reveal professional relations that bring unavoidable conflicts of interests.

So let's say that the editors of Foreign Policy got a "profile" of Leopoldo Lopez (Vzlan opposition leader recently condemned to nearly 14 years imprisonment) from Mr Lovato. Given that the piece was meant to have been "reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, with support from the Puffin Foundation", one must presume that necessary editorial consideration was given to the facts presented by all editors involved.

After publication, information about Mr Lovato's professional relations with TELESUR surfaced. To those who may have missed it, TELESUR is a Pan-American, Venezuela-funded, chavista "news" channel, as trustworthy and objective as Putin's Russia Today. It remains to be seen whether Lovato disclosed to Foreign Policy and The Nation that he had been previously contracted by TELESUR to do some programs, and later produced the "profile" on Lopez.

According to Lopez's lawyers and Pedro Burelli (mentioned throughout Lovato's piece) the article contains several inaccuracies, which Foreign Policy seems to be aggregating as "clarifications and corrections" at the end of the article.

But now we know that Lovato has been taking cues from Venezuela Information Office propagandists in Hugo Chavez's employ since, at least, September 2007, when Mr Lovato was a writer for New America Media and The Nation, and was being asked by chavistas to, basically, "publish oped": read regurgitate propaganda.

The two images above come from FARA reports filed by the now-extinct Venezuela Information Office, a Venezuelan government-financed and Venezuelan embassy-managed "information office" run from Washington DC. Did Lovato ever disclose this to The Nation and Foreign Policy?

Chavistas are having a ball with U.S. media these days. Whether is Bloomberg, Forbes or Foreign Policy, it seems to be getting easier for sly operators to get past clueless editors that can't be bothered to apply a minimum of editorial rigour to demonstrably unsubstantiated BS.


CAJUBI fraud: Marcelo Barone arrested in London

Marcelo Barone and Elisabel Vazquez (photo from ABC Color, Paraguay)
Readers might remember an investigation / collaboration I did in 2012 with Mabel Renhfeldt from Paraguay about a Venezuelan couple, Marcelo Barone and Elisabel Vazquez, who had defrauded some $36 million from a workers' fund in CAJUBI, the Brazilian-Paraguayan entity in charge of running Itaipu's dam.

As it turns, Barone, who was running from Paraguayan justice and is listed as wanted by INTERPOL along wife / partner in crime Vazquez, was finally arrested in London on 23 August according to Paraguayan media. A hearing in London today will determine whether Barone is released on bail, or whether he will remain in jail until January 2016 as per Paraguay's extradition request process.

Details of the whereabouts of Vazquez remain sketchy. Some reports claim Vazquez is in a clinic somewhere in London, while others suggest she was also arrested.

It is a matter of great pride to have collaborated in this investigation, and to see that authorities in some parts of the world are actually doing something against corruption.


Steal over a billion > Bloomberg'll call it 'family feud'

The message from the Bloomberg reporter read:
"Hi, I'm a reporter doing something on Derwick. Can I give you a call to ask a couple of questions?"
By this time, it's evident emails and calls are standard procedure of journalists / researchers reporting Venezuela, just to cover their backs and say "yeah, we called the guy, he gave us the usual about Mr Betancourt and his Derwick co..."

While I admit it is utterly unprofessional to be posting emails sent privately without the other party's consent, I just can't honor convention with reporters that epitomise unprofessionalism. After receiving the message above I called the reporter, and answered the "couple of questions" and more. But this is precisely the problem of editorial desks and journalists around the world: to think that a meaningful story can be produced by asking "a couple of questions". Invariably, initial niceties are followed by "I don't know anything about Venezuela..." or "this story is well beyond my area of expertise..."

When one asks clueless reporters what would happen in their countries should a Derwick-like scandal take place, all of them, without failure, say "yeah, I guess you're right, it would be a scandal, heads would roll..."

So why the difference? Why is it that reporting corruption-related issues in America and Europe gain lots of traction, catapult to stardom whoever brings them to light, official probes ensue, but doing same about under-developed countries gets spun into 'family feuds'?

Venezuelans can only feel envy at what's happening in Brazil, with Petrobras, Odebrecht, etc. That however, as dramatic as it may seem, is children's play next to what goes on in our country. Corruption in PDVSA and Venezuela is orders of magnitude larger that whatever's been done in Brazil, and yet, Venezuela's most notorious gang of corrupt businessmen are presented as entrepreneurial mavericks. This is beyond sickening, and not the first time that Bloomberg misrepresents Venezuelan thugs.

Once upon a time, Forbes was made to retract an attempt at whitewashing Derwick, but they seem to have a soft spot for Bolichoros. Same goes with Bloomberg and its reporting of Derwick. Money laundering of the multimillion dollar kind is called "growth plan". Corruption, bribes, no-bid contracting and misappropriation of public funds through massive overcharges by Derwick execs is called "a family divided over his business dealings with Chavez’s government." Probes by U.S. Federal agencies, Manhattan's DA, and Spain's anti money laundering authorities, and investigative reports exposing lack of credentials get summarised as "certain relatives who weren’t happy". Doublespeak that would make Goebbels, or chavismo, proud.

Bloomberg's hacks are yet to awake to the realities of Venezuelan corruption. Producing copy, without asking any proper questions, seem to be their sole remit. And that would be fine, if it weren't a business-oriented publication. As it is, failing to establish clear and evident links between shell companies and proxies of thugs being investigated in at least two jurisdictions is inexcusable, hard to take it as mere unprofessionalism. Failing to mention forays into business areas unrelated to Derwick's alleged expertise is equally concerning, for it is now common knowledge that Derwick has a hand in Petrodelta -through Francisco D'Agostino- and in Petrozamora -through Orlando Alvarado, in association with PDVSA and Russian interests (Gazprom). Why is this not mentioned?

When did Derwick become an oil-focused company and what credentials, aside the stolen millions that allowed for such, have their execs? What track record -in oil- do they bring to the table? Why is Bloomberg regurgitating Derwick's BS instead of asking questions pertinent to shareholders and interested parties?


Pacific Rubiales wakes up to O'Hara / Derwick Associates money laundering scam

O'Hara Administration Co., S.A. ("O'Hara") calls upon its fellow minority shareholders of Pacific Rubiales Energy Corp. ("Pacific Rubiales") to VOTE AGAINST the special resolution (the "Arrangement Resolution") to approve an arrangement whereby ALFA S.A.B. de C.V. ("ALFA") and Harbour Energy Ltd. ("Harbour") are proposing to acquire all of the issued and outstanding common shares ("Common Shares") of Pacific Rubiales for C$6.50 per share (the "Proposed Arrangement"). O'Hara believes that the Proposed Arrangement undervalues the Common Shares, is opportunistic given current market volatility, inappropriately incentivizes management at the expense of the minority shareholders and is not in the best interests of the minority shareholders.
You got to give it to these thugs. Boldness isn't something they lack. For here we have, a "group of investors", with no verifiable track record in oil & gas, anywhere on earth, represented by none other than Orlando Alvarado (Derwick Associates CFO), that mere days before Pacific was to announce ALFA's offer just happened to take an interest in Pacific, and in quick succession acquired nearly 20% of its shares. Opportunistic? Nooooo, just take Alvarado's word for it.

Pacific was caught napping, no doubt. It remains to be seen who leaked what, or how did Derwick find out about ALFA's impending announcement. What is unobjectionable is that once it did, Derwick reacted very quickly AND did the utmost to maintain its connection to O'Hara hidden. That is, of course, until I got information from Barbados registrar of companies about IPC Investments, one of the vehicles used by O'Hara and controlled by Alejandro Betancourt, Derwick's CEO. Then another shell controlled by Betancourt popped up in Pacific's shares purchase: Agency Partners, a vehicle used by Betancourt to buy a flat in Miami's Jade Ocean. It was then reported that Volbor Trading, O'Hara Administration, and Telmaven Overseas were three other shells controlled by Betancourt through Alvarado.

Pacific seems to have realised the dangers of allowing itself to be used by Betancourt & co for what amounts to a naked money laundering attempt. It announced some counter actions yesterday:
Pacific Rubiales Energy Corp. (TSX: PRE) (BVC: PREC) today announced that, after receiving approval from the Independent Committee of the Board of Directors, the Company is filing an application (the "Application") before the Supreme Court of British Columbia (the "Court") in connection with the proposed arrangement involving the Company, ALFA, S.A.B. de C.V. ("ALFA"), Harbour Energy, L.P., Harbour Energy Ltd. ("Harbour Energy") and 1035815 B.C. Ltd. (the "Purchaser"), pursuant to which the Purchaser would acquire all of the outstanding common shares of the Company ("Common Shares") not already owned by ALFA or held by the Company in treasury for cash consideration of C$6.50 per share (the "Arrangement"). The Application is being filed in response to significant concerns raised by Pacific Rubiales shareholders about how members of a group of Shareholders acting jointly and in concert led by O'Hara Administration Co., S.A. ("O'Hara") and Alejandro Betancourt (collectively, the "O'Hara Group") acquired their Common Shares.
In its release, Pacific asks a number of pertinent questions:
  1. Who is O'Hara?
  2. What is their investment track record in oil and gas?
  3. What is their history of corporate governance?
  4. How long have they owned their Common Shares?
  5. What is the O'Hara Group's relationship with Derwick Associates?
  6. Why is their circular lacking disclosure on these material issues? What are they trying to hide?
I feel like I can answer that.
  1. O'Hara is but a vehicle chosen by Alejandro Betancourt and his partners to "diversify", given the irremovable corruption stench that the Derwick brand has.
  2. None. As in non existent. Beyond attempts to flog oil and gas, or concessions in Venezuela, via some corrupt deal with PDVSA, nothing to write home about. Anywhere.
  3. Please refer to the recently leaked 14,000 files related to Derwick Associates dealings with Venezuela and ProEnergy Services, to learn about its "corporate governance".
  4. Indeed, how long, before Pacific made public its negotiation with ALFA? One month?
  5. The O'Hara Group has tried, repeatedly if news reports are to be used as benchmark, to obscure its relation with Derwick Associates. Bloomberg, for instance, first reported that O'Hara's main man, Orlando Alvarado, was "a Caracas-based financial consultant", without mentioning a) that Alvarado was Derwick Associates CFO; b) that IPC Investments was controlled by Betancourt (Derwick's CEO); c) that he represented "private-sector businessmen with no ties to the government" when Derwick's relations with high chavista officials, and bribe payments are a matter of huge interest and official probes in at least two countries. Alvarado hails from ABN Amro. When he left, he founded with a group of colleagues something called White Bridge Capital, where yet another employee of Derwick (Hans Hertell), works. Please note that Derwick Oil and Gas and Betancourt's IPC Investments share Trident Corporate Services as companies' Secretary, as per Barbados register records. But then Alvarado, who may be contacted at oalvardo@derwick.com, has been as recently as April 2015 discussing with Betancourt, Pedro Trebbau (Derwick's no 2), and American lawyers legal matters pertaining to pending lawsuits, issues that a person unrelated to Derwick would not be privy of.
  6. Why indeed? Could it be because they don't want Pacific and its shareholders to realise that this is nothing but an attempt to launder hundreds of millions of dollars stolen from Venezuela?
I sent an email to Alvarado, to ask questions about Derwick's true intentions with Pacific, its associations with Argentinean thugs,  and so on. Let's hope he replies...


Robert Hanson shows how to vanish Venezuela's largest newspaper conglomerate from books

Here's the background. In short, a London socialite called Robert Hanson (pictured), son of Margaret Thatcher's "favourite tycoon", purportedly "bought" in late 2013 Cadena Capriles, Venezuela's largest newspaper conglomerate.

The operation was, of course, a sham intended to hide Cadena Capriles ultimate controlling party. Through special purpose vehicles created solely to keep chavista names hidden from view, Hanson set up a shell in Curaçao called Latam Media Holding N.V., dispatched to Caracas his associate Patrick Teroerde, who "paid" over 90 million USD, and got hold, along with chavista banker Victor Vargas of Banco Occidental de Descuento, of Cadena Capriles. The Curaçao shell is managed by TMF Curaçao N.V. although Venezuelan reports claimed that London-based Hanson Asset Management (HAM) owned Latam Media Holding.  HAM returns are freely available in Companies House beta website.

There are some interesting bits in Hanson Asset Management accounts made up to 31 March 2014. For instance this:

Could Hanson Holdings Lux SARL have been used to purchase Cadena Capriles, to then be given to somebody else for a profit of £3,611? We'll have to check Luxembourg's records...

But then, there's this other bit:

Net assets amounting to £1,437,409 at 31 March 2014? So if Cadena Capriles is not hidden in Luxembourg (a jurisdiction favoured by media-loving chavistas), where is it?

Hanson Investment Holdings Limited, interestingly incorporated in December 2013, has not filed accounts as yet. Teroerde has got one share in it and Hanson Capital Limited -with a declared capital of £50,000- has another.

What happened then to that asset bought in Venezuela for over 90 million USD? A look into the purchase of Spanish magazine Cambio16 exposed a few dodgy connections between high ranking chavistas, boligarchs, PDVSA, Bell Pottinger and French investment firm Lazard. Both Lazard and Hanson are acquainted with Bell Pottinger, and all three have been engaged in illegal deals in Venezuela recently. While no investigation in a country described as a narcostate will flush out Hanson's partners, UK authorities should perhaps follow the American example and launch proper investigations into massive corruption rackets taking place in London. For one thing is to front for Venezuelan white collar thugs, but for drug dealers? Quite another...