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DOSSIER

14 years of corruption

Impunity stands out as one of the "top 10" administrative irregularities committed by the Government. Just recently when devaluation took place, there are some who remind others that embezzlement also has incidence in the inflation

Supporters of Public Prosecutor Danilo Anderson asked for justice the day after he was murdered. Their claim was not fulfilled, not even after finding out an extortion network that operates inside the courts (File Photo: AP)
JOSEPH POLISZUK |  EL UNIVERSAL
Saturday February 23, 2013  12:00 AM
The cases of influence peddling and embezzlement recorded since 1999 cannot be contained in only one page, but now that the Venezuelan Government and its allies are looking for corrupt actors in the opposite team, here there is some sort of contradiction: a huge number of "top 10" denunciations made against the current government at the Attorney General's Office, which are on hold at this time.

We are not claiming that Hugo Chávez's Government initiated the Venezuelan corruption. The difference, according to Deputy of Carabobo state and member of Proyecto Venezuela (Project Venezuela), Deyalitza Aray, is that "now the public powers have no autonomy and portray a clear political deal-making regarding the fight against corruption."

From the Comptroller's Commission of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Aray does not oppose to her counterparts of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) who request investigations into the last governance of Nueva Esparta and Monagas states. But she warns that there exists a pile of cases, such as the one with the Cement Producer Cerro Azul, which is still on hold despite the USD 390,000,000 intended for other purposes by the government in partnership with Iran.

"It is very easy to talk about speculation -she claims- but corruption does have incidence in the inflation: it pressures and reverts the consumption of goods and services."

THE TOP 10 IN CORRUPTION

MAKLED.
A fugitive of the Venezuelan justice by then, in 2009,Walid Makled appeared in third place on the list of the most wanted drug dealers by the White House. Since then, a chain of links with the Venezuelan Government started to come to light, when it was verified that he was granted identification cards, concessions and contracts by Venezuela's government. Makled was held prisoner in 2010 in Colombia. From there, he made accusations against several ministers and 15 general officers for involvement in corruption, smuggling of weapons into the Colombian guerrillas, and drug traffic. In Venezuela; however, he has preferred to keep his mouth shut during a trial in which the high-rank officers were excluded from the list of witnesses. Among the many links attributed to the Government, in the last years, rumors are going round about a thank-you letter sent from Miraflores presidential palace to Makled Foundation "on behalf of the Venezuelan President Commander."

PDVAL. More than 120,000 tons of decomposed food warned back in 2010 about a series of officers who exported food through USD preferential quotas, to leave it paying the freight at the ports of the country. The scandal brought down several heavyweights of state-run oil holding Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), in which the involvement of Egli Ramírez, uncle of Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Rafael Ramírez is highlighted. According to the Public Prosecutor Ministry, the lost money amounts to USD 2.20 billion which could have been used to buy more than two-fold of dairy products that are annually consumed by Venezuelans. Three years later, the case has been widely in the spotlight, to such an extent that it has been in five courts; the only three accused are waiting at home for the sixth judge to sentence them. Although the law provides for the release of prisoners who have waited for a trial more than a year, the workers of Pdval are among the few lucky ones who get these benefits.

ILLARAMENDI. Businessman Francisco Illaramendi pleaded guilty in March 2011 for a scam that, among the lost money, amounts to USD 540,000,000 from the pensioners' fund of state-run oil holding Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). The state-owned industry assumed the burden for everything that its workers suffered, but Julio Montoya, Ismael García and other deputies of the opposition sector went to the Public Prosecutor Ministry in order to remind the corresponding authorities that the very Rafael Ramírez, as Pdvsa's president, is the one responsible for the bank transactions recorded in the pensioners' fund. The official answer given to this case was that they undertook an investigation; nevertheless, at this time, no information has been disclosed. The case, anyway, continues to be in the trial courts of the United States, where the Connecticut Court just took the witness higher to the federal circles.

BOLÍVAR PLAN 2000. This was not a single case, but a set of corruption cases. Soon after making his debut in the presidency, Hugo Chávez launched in 1999 a series of welfare programs executed by the National Armed Forces (FAN) with the motto "civilian – military alliance." That is how soldiers were seen repairing shanties and selling food supplies with the standard of the so-called Plan Bolívar 2000. This program lasted for more than three years and ended up affecting others because of amended payment bills and postdated checks. In Guárico state, for example, a soldier was filmed -under the order of General Melvin López Hidalgo- cashing a check on behalf of an ironmonger. The Comptroller's Office issued a report with the findings of several illicit activities, but Chávez jumped in defense of General Manuel Rosendo and other accused: "Perhaps, it is an administrative failure that has to be fined (...) but there is no reason to snitch on everyone involved."

ANDERSON CASE. An attack against Public Prosecutor Danilo Anderson occurred in the evening of November 18, 2004revealing as a result corruption in the judiciary. The authorities dismissed the police case files which indicated an extortion network known as "the gang of the dwarves," but later they admitted that suitcases filled with cash and money counting machines were found in the Public Prosecutor's apartment. After more than three years of denunciations against a shady trial, Hernando Contreras, one of the public prosecutors in charge of the case, confessed in 2008 that they had altered records and falsified testimonies, as ordered by Attorney General Isaías Rodríguez. Under different circumstances, Magistrate Eladio Aponte was seen in 2012 making accusations against the government for manipulating courts and even applying pressure to get measures in favor of generals who even kept drug in a quarter based in Carora, in Lara state.

DIOSDADO & COMPANY. The case files recorded early in 2009 against political leaders of the ruling PSUV party, Luis Felipe Acosta Carlez, Diosdado Cabello, Ronald Blanco La Cruz, Gian Carlo Di Martino, José Vicente Rangel Ávalos and Juan Barreto amount to more than USD 711,000,000, which could have been used to build a hospital in every locality where they ruled. The opposition sector won in Carabobo, Miranda, Táchira, Maracaibo, Caracas and in Sucre municipality at that time; and since then, the opposition sector filed a number of complaints with the Comptroller Generals Office and the Attorney General's Office, which ended up in stay of proceedings. There were more serious cases when taking note of the money loss, but in Miranda, it was highlighted the more than 400,000,000 Bolivars in the old currency (USD 63,512.80 at this time) that Cabello intended for the presumably remodeling of two bathrooms, which was found to be made of ceramics and rudimentary elements.

THE SUITCASE SCANDAL. Guido Antonini Wilson appeared with a case filled with almost USD 800,000 on August 4, 2007 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This matter brought to light a network of officers from both countries that traveled with cases filled with cash without any type of tax records. After the scandal was brought up, the fat guy (Antonini) appeared in a court based in Miami as a protected witness in a trial in which he declared that the famous "suitcase" was one among several which totaled USD 5,000,000 intended for Cristina Kirchner's first electoral campaign. Luisa Ortega Díaz made then her debut as at the Attorney General Office, warning that the event occurred in the United States had no incidence in Venezuela; whereas the General Comptroller, Clodosbaldo Russián, promised that he would investigate. Years later, the Argentinean Ambassador, Eduardo Sadous, made denunciations for commission charges in the bilateral agreements.

BANKRUPTED BANKS. Both the Government and the opposition sector accused in 2009 a number of bankers and officers for taking part in a "financial centrifuge," which enabled them to sell banks by using the savings of clients from other banks. Most of the involved people were released and were able to reside in the country, despite the warrants of arrest issued by the very Venezuelan Government to Interpol. The 15 banks placed in receivership managed 13% of income in the financial system. They were small, but rewarded with deposits of huge amounts of money from public institutions. The treasurers and officers held responsible for the aforementioned offence were untouched; not even the Superintendent of Banks, Edgar Hernández Behrens, who authorized businessmen Pedro Torres Ciliberto and Arné Chacón to acquire banks Central and Banco Real through fictitious loans.

CIUDAD LEBRÚN. Jesse Chacón, in charge of the Ministry of Interior and Justice, shocked many back in 2006 by denouncing the magistrate of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), Luis Velásquez Alvaray, for commission charges amounting to more than USD 1,429,040,000 in the buying of some lands for court facilities, such as the so-called Ciudad Lebrún of Caracas, that promised revamped civil courts. Surprisingly, Velásquez Alvaray counter-attacked by making accusations against  Vice President José Vicente Rangel, Minister Chacón and the then National Assembly (AN) Speaker, Nicolás Maduro, of running an operation against him, through a network of judicial extortion known since 2004 as "the gang of the dwarves." At the end, Velásquez Alvaray escaped from Venezuela and the civil courts continued to be in the same place: in Esquina de Pajaritos area where elevators operate quite badly due to their poor working order.

SUGAR MILL. Subsequent to the construction of Ezequiel Zamora Agro-industrial Sugar Complex (CAAEZ), there were cloned checks, inflated payrolls and diverted allocations for the remodeling of the headquarters of Comando Maisanta in Sabaneta, in Barinas state. The AN Accountability Committee estimated damages at USD 523,981,000 and held military officers and figures like the then Minister of Agriculture and Lands, Antonio Albarrán, responsible for this. At the end, however, justice only touched the military officers. The project was sold by President Hugo Chávez as a flag of land transformation in his native town, but it became clouded afterwards because of the claims of corruption, which initially involved Cuban advisors and even his family members. The Venezuelan Government approved more resources in order to finish the building, and that is how everything ended up.

Translated by Adrián Valera Villani
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