21.11.12

Derwick’s Digital Strategy: Keeping Up Appearances on Park Avenue

London 21.11.2012 - Derwick's little adventure gets more interesting the deeper I dig. What we have here is a Venezuelan company accused of corruption in Ultimas Noticias, and in other published Venezuelan media such as El Universal, El Mundo, Analitica, Reporte, Sexto Poder and numerous blogs. Yet they haven't touched any major publications. Why are the Derwick gang not suing Batiz and Ultimas Noticias? Batiz actually won an award for his reporting on Derwick's fraud. Perhaps Derwick realizes that the owner, Miguel Angel Capriles, is a very powerful and untouchable Chavez ally, going against him would probably cause Derwick's dissolution in an internecine chavista legal war they just can't win.

Or perhaps it is something else, entirely. In my last blog post, I referred to how they may be using their lawsuit to nail a Chavez government critic. But it also addresses another problem.

What they are likely afraid of is that their private bankers and money managers in the financial capitals could be getting a little restless about holding their accounts. After all, who wants to manage accounts from Venezuelans with dubious reputations? In the past, American banks have paid a high price for laundering ill-gotten South American wealth. So why sue Batiz, Reporte, or Ultimas Noticias--in Venezuela or Florida-- if they know they would lose? Instead, why not sue a rather unknown website that's yet to establish its crediblity? This way they can point to the lawsuit, and tell any banker doing KYC: "you see, we have clean hands, we are victims of a conspiracy and a court determined that." That way they can lay to rest any concerns for their reputations in the future, and point to hundreds of millions of dollars in profits and say it is all squeaky clean profits, made in less than three years of honest work.

Betancourt, Trebbau, Convit, Romero Lazo, and their partners evidently don't care about what's published in Spanish. But they are terrified of a breach in the digital divide between English and Spanish. Exposure abroad could mean no more weekends on the yacht in St. Tropez, no more brunches at the Knickerbocker Club, no more weddings in Ocala to show off the new helicopter to their cousins. What matters to them is what ends up in the English-speaking media, and I think there is a pattern here.

The evidence suggests it: reputed fellow bloggers deleting posts, other bloggers that have written about it emailing me asking for advice owing to legal concerns, while yet others already in the crosshairs of Derwick. So, bloggers writing in English, get threatening letters from millionaire New York lawyer Hector Torres. Meanwhile, Ultimas Noticias and Cesar Batiz are simply invisible to them.

Well, I have translated one of the Ultimas Noticias articles for the world to read.  I include it below, and hope it is reprinted far and wide so that Derwick can cease its preposterous claims of a defamation campaign by some website, and can instead begin to address the elephant in the room: the allegations below aren’t from some ad hominem website, it is a thorough report from Venezuela's largest selling-newspaper. And it led to formal petitions from the newspaper for a thorough criminal investigation.

But putting aside the many criminal allegations against the Derwick boys, matters of freedom of speech and the silencing of whistleblowers is something near and dear to my heart. Due to my exercising freedom of speech on issues -like this one- about my country, I was once the target of the Mayor of London. Well, guess what? Views similar to mine on Livingstone had been vindicated.

In my next update I shall go through the lawsuit point by point. I do not know if Oscar Garcia Mendoza and his bank are behind Wiki Anti-Corruption, but regardless of that, what is undeniable is that the burden of proof is on Derwick, it needs to prove that the allegations against them are not true. This Kasowitz lawsuit is sure to be the focus of many stories, and I want to get ahead of it. Hector Torres's clients aren't building powerplants in Denmark, they are doing so in a narco-state, with a government ranked as one of the most corrupt in the world. And their subcontractor, ProEnergy Services, seems to restrict its work mostly to dodgy dictatorships.

Just yesterday a new twist: two Caracas publications, La Razón and 6to Poder, reported that new Electricity Minister, Hector Navarro, has been asked directly by President Hugo Chavez to investigate the corruption scandal related to Derwick and its directors. Oh dear.

I have been talking about the Derwick fraud to Cesar Batiz and other sources. One of the highlights thus far has been intellectual heavyweight Moises Naim tweeting my last report to his 51,981 followers. Derwick sued Oscar Garcia simply for tweeting a link. What is Derwick going to do now—sue Moises Naim too?

But perhaps more gripping, since I started writing about Derwick, my blog is being visited often by the FBI, Homeland Security, Dept. of Treasury, Dept. of State. I haven't seen this many visits from US. government domains since my other site, vcrisis.com, used to get in excess of a 150.000 visits a month. This may explain their fixation with silencing anyone who has written about their exploits in English.


Cable pelao en la electricidad
César Batiz* / Últimas Noticias (Venezuela) - 07/08/11

The lack of experience did not prevent a firm from receiving 12 contracts for electrical work in 14 months. EDC, CVG, and PDVSA awarded the firm major projects in the midst of the power crisis. The firm has failed in five cases to meet the delivery date. Derwick Associates is registered in Barbados, Venezuela, and Spain.

A company incorporated in Venezuela in October 2009, without any kind of experience in executing projects either for the public or private sector, received 12 contracts in 14 months for the construction of electrical works, including five that played a crucial role in ensuring electrical service to Caracas. Derwick Associates Venezuela, whose directors are young, with an average age of under 30, began to install one generator for La Electricidad de Caracas (EDC) in Picure, in the state of Vargas, on October 2, 2009.

It appears from the website of the National Contractor Registry (RNC) that as of that date, Derwick was not registered as a company under the laws of the country.  That registration took place on October 28, 2009, according to the commercial record. Less than a month later, the company signed another contract with the EDC for a job in La Raisa, state of Miranda.

From March to December 2010, a period during which the electrical emergency decree issued by President Hugo Chávez Frías was in effect, Derwick won four contracts with the EDC, including Guarenas I and II, and five more with PDVSA and one with the Venezuelan Guayana Corporation (CVG), for a total of 12, five of which were supposed to be completed before this month. The only information available about the cost of the projects, which can be found in press reports and on the website of the Ministry of Electric Power, is that Picure cost a total of $130 million for 134 MW, and Guarenas cost a total of $211 million for 156 MW.

Silence

Últimas Noticias wanted to know the details of the contracts, to which end we delivered a letter on 6 July at the headquarters of the National Electricity Corporation (Corpoelec) with a right to petition and timely response. An unsuccessful attempt was also made to interview the directors of the company. The only one who responded was the former president of the EDC, former vice minister, and current president of Bariven, Javier Alvarado Ochoa, but he did so via Elizabeth Moran, his communications adviser. She said that between 2007 and 2008 Corpoelec hired ProEnergy Services, a U.S. firm, to perform the electrical work.

According to Alvarado's account, by order of PDVSA a Venezuelan firm had to participate in carrying out the projects executed by ProEnergy. For this reason they entered into an association with Derwick. Ultimas Noticias wrote to Brett Bettinger, representative of ProEnergy, asking him about his relationship with Derwick. He suggested that we pose the questions to the Venezuelan company. Advisors to Corpoelec and engineers involved in the projects, whose names are being withheld, confirm that Derwick subcontracted to ProEnergy.

Young

On its website Derwick describes itself as an organization "with a wide range of capabilities." "It's American," said a worker who works on The Raisa's projects. The same company has three names. In Barbados, where it was registered in May 2009, the company is identified as Derwick Associates Corporation. In Venezuela it is called Derwick Associates Venezuela, while in Madrid it is Derwick Associates International SRL.

In all cases the names and relationships are consistent. In the register in Barbados, Pedro Trebbau Lopez, Leopoldo Alejandro Betancourt Lopez, Domingo X. Guzman De Frutos Lopez, and Edgar Romero Lazo are listed as directors. Trebbau, Betancourt, and Guzman live in La Lagunita, according to the Maisanta database. Their average age is under 30. The oldest of them, Leopoldo Alejandro, or just Alejandro, as he prefers to be called, at 31 years old runs Derwick Venezuela, sharing the role of director with Trebbau and Iker Candina, the only one in the group who is over 50.

According to the register in Barbados, the secretary of Derwick is Trident Corporate Services (Barbados) Limited, a fund company that operates in tax havens in the Caribbean. The Spanish subsidiary of Derwick is on calle Príncipe de Vergara, Madrid. The journalist Sandra La Fuente, who helped with this report, went to that address. She spoke over the intercom with a man who had a Venezuelan accent. She asked him if it was the headquarters of Derwick. The man said no, and said that it was his residence.

Rented

Derwick's first headquarters in Venezuela was The Pyramid Building, 2nd floor, suite 202, in Prados del Este, according to the mercantile records. The office is empty. The owner of the property is Edgard Romero Nava, ex-president of Fedecámaras and father of Derwick director Edgar Romero Lazo. Romero Nava said that for a year and half the office was rented to a U.S. company whose name he did not remember [added ProEnergy anyone?]. He noted that the lessee was not Derwick and said he was unaware that his son was a director of Derwick, as shown in the Barbados register.

In mid 2010, National Guard officials visited the site in search of the previous tenants, who were gone. Romero Nava confirmed this, but was not in the country when it happened. Ultimas Noticias knew that on April 29 of last year, the president of the Union of University Professional Workers of Venalum, Manuel Diaz, submitted to the Senior Prosecutor of the state of Bolivar a request to investigate former Minister Rodolfo Sanz, who sent a fax from number 212 -977-7399 to companies purchasing metal produced by the CVG, requesting that sum of money involved in the transactions, a total of $500 million, be deposited in an account at Gazprom Bank of Lebanon.

Diaz notes in the complaint that the phone number from which the fax was sent on September 4, 2009, belonged “to a private individual named Alejandro Betancourt.” A journalist from El Universal, Joseph Politzuk, tracked the number as part of a report published in June 2010 on the Gazprom Bank case. Upon checking it, he discovered that the address was none other than the same one that is registered as the headquarters of Derwick at the moment in the first commercial register.

"They told me that it was the office of Alejandro Betancourt, who was an advisor to Minister Sanz," notes Politzuk. By June of last year, the directors of the company had already moved to the new headquarters in the PH of the Kyra building in Campo Alegre, Chacao municipality. In March, five months after winning his first contract, they paid BsF 4,800,000 ($ 1,116,279.06) for the property, according to the land register.

Power relations

But the new headquarters does not blot out other data in the story. 212-977-7399 was the same number that Javier Andres Alvarado Pardi, son of the former president of the EDC and former vice minister of Electricity Development, used when he exported a 1959 Porshe from the Dominican Republic to the U.S., as reflected on the website www.importgenius.com. Javier Andrés also listed, as an emergency contact address, the same building and floor where the original headquarters of Derwick were located, and where fax sent to CVG buyers was attributed to Betancourt. Furthermore, on Facebook, Alvarado is friends with Betancourt, Trebbau, and Guzman, among others.

The coincidences do not stop there. Sanz and Derwick are not only linked by a fax sent in September 2009 from the location where the company's Venezuelan headquarters would be established a month later. The only power plant designed by Sidor, under the command of the former minister and member of Estado Mayor Electrico (see note tomorrow in El Mundo Economia y Negocios), began to be installed by Derwick in March 2010, with equipment, according to statements made to the press by Sanz, sold by Gazprom, the Russian energy company, which owns the Bank of Lebanon.

Five months earlier, in October 2009, when Derwick was awarded the first of the 12 contracts, the president of the EDC was Alvarado Ochoa, who also lived in La Lagunita, according to the Maisanta database. The same official, on February 12, 2010, was appointed Deputy Minister of Electricity Development. On February 15, 2010, when the electrical shielding of Caracas was announced, Alvarado Ochoa had responsibility for all works that were required to achieve that goal. All the thermoelectrical work, other than the Termocentro Complex Generator (of which Duro Felguera was put in charge) and the two barges with generators, was awarded to Derwick.

Trampas eléctricas - Parte II - por César Batiz

 




Constitutional Law

Article 51 of the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela provides for the right of petition and timely response. The failure of public officials to comply with this requirement can lead to penalties and suspension of their functions. Ultimas Noticias sent a letter to Minister Ali Rodriguez and the Communication Director of Corpoelec, Nelly Trujillo, and has yet to receive a reply. In the case of Derwick, we made attempts through various intermediaries to speak with Betancourt, Trebbau, and Romero Lazo. Only Guzman phoned us and asked us on July 28 to submit a list of questions. At press time, he had not yet answered our questions. For his part, Javier Alvarado did not clarify the relationship between her son Javier Andrés and the boys.

Waiting for Megawatts

The installation of 1,344 megawatts of power generation in seven states remained in the hands of a single company, Derwick Associates Corporation. In some cases, such as those contracted by PDVSA, the projects have been stalled for several months owing to non-payment.

The same as the Aban Pearl

The firm listed as secretary of Derwick in the Barbados register (see documents on the web), Trident Corporate, served the same function for Petromarine Energy Services, the company from which PDVSA leased the Aban Pearl, the semi-submersible that after experiencing a near-shipwreck in August 2009 in Trinidad sank in May 2010 in the Gulf of Paria.


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