CARACAS, Thursday May 16, 2013 | Update

Swiss bank accounts were used for bribery

US Government files action to seize assets

(File photo)
Thursday May 16, 2013  03:12 PM
US authorities have unveiled a scheme where the Chief Financial Officer of the Economic and Social Development Bank of Venezuela (Bandes), María de los Angeles González, accepted or expected to receive a bribe of at least USD 9 million on account of transactions that yielded huge earnings to  Direct Access Partners (DAP), a financial services enterprise based in New York.

DAP would sell overpriced bonds to the Venezuelan bank or buy them below the market value, with a return of USD 66 million, according to the US Exchange and Securities Commission (SEC).

For valuable consideration of such trading not at all to the benefit of the Venezuelan Nation, González would get a chunk of the proceeds through Cartagena International INC, a front firm incorporated in Panama, also featuring Jorge González, an alleged relative of the Bandes CEO.

Cartagena International operated with five bank accounts in Switzerland: one at the financial institution Julius Baer; three at Rahn & Bodmer, and the fifth one at CBH, Compagnie Bancaire Helvétique.

Furthermore, Jorge Hernández is the holder of a bank account at Bank Hapoalim, also in Switzerland, accounting for USD 509.250.

María de los Angeles González would not be alone. Another Bandes officer, identified as CC-1 at the set of e-mails interdicted by SEC would get money through company Hyseven.

Such company handled the cash through four bank accounts in Switzerland: three at Rahn & Bodmer and one at Union Bancaire Privee.

Several e-mails show that CC-1 was aware of the payments received by González and got in touch with DAP brokers.

Additional pieces of evidence

Tomas Clarke, the DAP Deputy Executive Officer, was responsible for effecting the fraudulent transactions and recording in worksheets the astronomical profit margins.

José Alejandro Hurtado, a US citizen, acted as the middleman between DAP and Bandes. He would be afforded USD 6 million. His wife, Haydee Leticia Pabón, a Venezuelan national, got USD 8.6 million. They tried to camouflage the reward as intermediation.

Iuri Bethancourt acted as the CEO of ETC Investment, a company incorporated in Panama, closely linked with Thomas Clarke, who was granted USD 20 million.

Hurtado used a company under his control, HAS Investment Group, to channel payments from DAP to González.

HAS Investment Group operated with two Swiss bank accounts, at financial institution Mirabaud & Cie.

In addition, González got payments by means of deposits from Castilla Holding; this company operated as well through a Swiss bank account at Mirabaud & Cie.

The confiscation

Besides the charges for breaking the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and the laws against money laundering, the US Government filed a legal action at the Manhattan Federal Court to seek the confiscation of all the money and assets of Cartagena International, ETC Investment, HAS Investment Group, Castilla Holdings and Hyseven SA.

They intend also to seize the whole amount of USD 509,000 held in the Swiss bank account of Hernández and a number of investments in real estate.

New president

Temir Alfredo Porras Ponceleón was appointed the new CEO of Bandes; he stand in for Edmée Betancourt, the brand new president of the Central Bank of Venezuela.

Deceitful operations at Bandes date back to January 2009 and June 2010. In the meantime, the financial institution produced three sixth-month balance sheets.

The two financial statements at 2009 were signed by Alejandro Andrade, the Bandes CEO at that time; the financial statement at 2010 was signed by Edmée Betancourt.

Bandes is an agency attached to the Venezuelan Ministry of Finance; therefore, the minister has some responsibilities.

Pursuant to article 18 of the Bandes Law, the minister of Finance is responsible "for approving the annual report of the board of directors, the audited six-month balance sheets and the annual report of the internal auditor."

At the time of the operations with Direct Access Partner, Alí Rodríguez and Jorge Giordani acted as ministers of Finance.
The end of a cycle

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Brazil on March 13 to demand the ouster of embattled President Dilma Rousseff, carrying banners expressing anger at bribery scandals and economic woes. A banner read "We don't want a new Venezuela in Brazil."