DOSSIER | Moris Beracha, a Venezuelan businessman
Illaramendi, backed up by a Swiss bank
Businessman Moris Beracha claims that Credit Suisse vouched the operations that link him with one of the biggest scams ever. Although the financial group was contacted, his office would make no comments
From the Dominican Republic, the owner of Movilway and other software and cell phone companies claims that more than USD 200 million has been recovered in the United States from the mess created by Illaramendi (Handout photo)
Saturday November 03, 2012 12:00 AM
Moris Beracha washes his hands off. The owner of Movilway and other technology and pre-paid cell pone service companies pleaded not guilty of the shady operation for USD 300 million conducted by Francisco Illaramendi, coming from even the pension fund of oil holding Petróleos de Venezuela (Pdvsa). Further, he claims to have lost USD 112 million.
After two years of a court trial that is still on in the United States, Beracha speaks from the Dominican Republic. He claims that his relationship with the accused was strictly of a professional nature: buying US dollars and selling Venezuelan bolivars. As a matter of fact, should Beracha have the chance to have Illaramendi in front of him, he would tell him: "You screwed us up!"
How could such great deal of money disappear?
How did that money vanish? I would really like to know the answer. The comptroller appointed by the court of Connecticut in the United States, John Carney, says that such money was used in risky operations like swap, but I had only seen extra income in such kind of operations.
What are you charged of in this case?
They are suing me for USD 170 million at Connecticut court, alleging that I was an accomplice with Illaramendi and knew what this man did.
How could Francisco Illaramendi have hatched such a big embezzlement with nobody noticing it?
Up to now, we still do not know how the money vanished. The comptroller has not even specified how much of it has been gone and the fact that such amount of money has not been determined or known at this point is unbelievable. But as far as I am concerned, the only way a swap is not completed is that one of the two parties does not make the appropriate payment. Nevertheless, such case did not take place in our transaction, as the case would have come to light in 48 hours.
Which operations did you make with Illaramendi?
The only operations I made with him were the swaps between 2006 and 2007, in which I would pay with Venezuelan bolivars and get US dollars. Then, in November 2008, I started to acquire structured bills in this sense; bonds from the Venezuelan debt, which were transactions perfectly set, where there was no chance to scam, as they had confirmation letters from Credit Suisse group. In other words, they were supported by that Swiss bank.
When did you start suspecting something was not right?
I did not really suspect anything until we found out about the complaint made by the Securities and Exchange Commission of the United States (SEC) in December 2010. Illaramendi worked with Credit Suisse for 12 years; he was seen doing the issue of Electricidad de Caracas, advising on the issue of Corporación Venezolana de Guayana; he was a renowned person in the stock market. He even paid a maturity to us in advance.
What is now on the way? Are you going to take any sort of measures?
I just requested the court to remove all immunity from the comptroller in order to sue him. How come the trial process against me comes from a lawyer group where the comptroller is a member? The only thing that the comptroller has done so far is to charge fees: by the end of 2011, he had received around USD 16 million or so.
How much money has the court established in the United States as recovered?
I am aware that there are a little bit more than frozen USD 200 million, but we are almost reaching the second year after this process started, and the comptroller has not said a word and he is making this longer. Every time he is asked to give an answer, he asks for one, two and even three months to respond.
On one occasion, it was said that the scam amount was way higher.
Not long ago, on September 21, Mr. Illaramendi made a sworn statement, that has not been leaked to the media, in which he claims he acted independently and he has told the comptroller over and over again more than 50 times that the scam amount was lower than USD 300 million, but the comptroller pays no attention to his words. The leading witness got messed up; fortunately, they are now telling the truth and this comptroller now holds a heavier burden as it has been two years since the event and he continues to delay the process.
Do you believe that the money from Pdvsa pension fund will return to its workers?
I really do not know. What I can tell is that I cannot figure out, according to the background I knew from Illarramendi and the type of transactions he used to make, how the money disappeared.
Is it true that you have advised the Venezuelan Government?
I helped former Minister of Finance, Rafael Isea, back in 2008 with two bond issues. He requested my help in reducing inflation when he was appointed Minister of Finance, so I set a strategy to diminish the dollar value. There are tons of rumors going on out there about me and I have not bothered to reply, because I strongly believe that lies do not deserve much attention.
And, do these structured bills have something to do with Illaramendi's case?
Not at all. I did not work for the government, it was an ad honorem advice given to former Minister Isea, and I say it with satisfaction because I felt very proud of having helped, not the government, but my country and having managed to decree the dollar value at that time.
What could you tell those pensioners from Pdvsa who lost their money?
I want to be quite clear on this: I have nothing to do with the Pdvsa situation. What I did, was to exchange Venezuelan bolivars for US dollars in a transaction monitored by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Central Back of Venezuela (BCV), but I never had a direct link with Pdvsa. There is no mystery or ghost in this story.
If you had the chance to be in front of Illaramendi today, what would you tell him?
"Wow, you screwed us up!"... I would simply ask him to tell the truth and let us know where the money is, and as a consequence, my desire and all my efforts would be aimed at getting it back so that it is demonstrated that I am completely not guilty of any count.
Translated by Adrián Valera Villani
Following a wave of nationalizations carried out by the late President Hugo Chavez between 2007 and 2012, Venezuela has become the second most frequent respondent to investment treaty arbitration in the world (38 cases in total), after Argentina.