The Wall Street Journal published an article yesterday in which it claims that U.S. federal authorities are investigating former PDVSA officials on suspicion of stealing billions of dollars through the organization.

The article claims that in 2006, a Spanish construction firm scheduled a meeting with the then-head of PDVSA, Rafael Ramirez, in order to big on a construction contract with $1.5 billion. When the construction company representatives arrived at the meeting, they were greeted not by Ramirez but by his cousin, Diego Salazar, who demanded a $150,000,000 bribe in order to be considered for the contract.

The newspaper claims that the investigation is being “carried out by federal law enforcement in multiple jurisdictions around the U.S.”, and that the investigation also involves establishing whether PDVSA bank accounts in foreign countries were used to launder drug money.

A “person close to the current PDVSA president’s office” told the Wall Street Journal that Ramirez ran PDVSA “like a family business”, placing relatives in high-level positions in the company.

Ramirez’s cousin is alleged to have played a pivotal role during his time in PDVSA. Salazar’s opulence has earned him the nickname “El Señor de los Relojes” [Mr. Watch], due to his love for Rolexes.

This investigation appears to be connected to allegations earlier this year that the Banca Privada D’Andorra was being used by Venezuelan officials to launder money.

According to documents reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, an account at the bank belonging to Salazar received “hundreds of millions of dollars” from shell companies in Panama, Belize and the British Virgin Islands.

The article also claims that there is evidence that Ramirez gamed the Venezuelan currency exchange system by ensuring allies could receive dollars at the official Bs. 4.3/dollar rate, which they would then sell in the black market. The scheme could have profited those involved to the tune of $2 billion.

A former PDVSA executive told the newspaper that there was a “generalized system of corruption” at the company, and that U.S. authorities have a wealth of e-mails and contact details, allowing them to carry out the investigation.

The article points out that Chavez’s creation of off-the-books funds with PDVSA money in 2005 provided the perfect opportunity for corrupt officials to access exuberant amounts of money without any oversight. Another “oil industry executive” that PDVSA officials once offered to buy a ship for more than double the $125 million price in order to “share the spoils” with the seller.

Ramirez was the head of PDVSA from 2004 to 2014, and is currently the Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations.

The full article can be read here.

Cabello: Opposition WIll “Have to Kill Lots of People” to Bring Neoliberalism to Venezuela

National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said on his television show last night that any future government thinking about implementing neoliberal policies in the country “will have to kill lots of people” to do so.

Cabello said:

It’s really clear. The only way they [the opposition] have is to do it the way Pinochet did. Well, they’re going to have to kill lots of people. But it’ll have to be a tremendous amount of people, because where one falls 100 will take his place… and the people will respond how they have to respond. You will never again implement a neoliberal package here.

Newly-Graduated Doctors Earn $53.75 A Month

The base salary for newly-graduated public sector doctors was increased this week to Bs. 43,000 per month. At the unofficial exchange rate of Bs. 800/US dollar, the earnings amount to $53.75 per month.

Minister of Health Henry Venture dismissed critics who point out that the salary is not enough to cover the basic nutritious basket, saying that not all doctors will earn the base amount because “the ones who work more will earn more”.

Freddy Bernal: “Infiltrators” Sabotage Venezuela Law

National Assembly Deputy Freddy Bernal appeared on a television show last night on the state-run VTV network. During the show, Bernal called on PSUV supporters to work “hand in hand” with militia organizations such as the Unidades de Batalla Bolivar-Chavez (UBCh), and suggested that “infiltrators” were sabotaging the Venezuelan government.

In Venezuela, the “popular power” is a term used to describe the citizenry, a term that is interchangeable in English with “government supporters”.

Below, a clip of Bernal’s appearance, along with my translation:

Bernal: … laughing about it. The law will be reformed shortly so that [unintelligible] will be expedited. But what you’ve pointed out is key. We can’t let the state act alone. Why? Because there are infiltrators inside the state. There are people inside the revolutionary government playing backwards, as we say in criollo. We also have people from the Fourth Republic [the period before Chavez came to power] working inside our institutions. We have to point this out because it’s the reality.

Now, how do we make sure that public officials follow the law, and how to we make sure that public officials really align themselves with what President Nicolas said? An organized popular power. No one can lie to an organized popular power. If there’s an unscrupulous civil servant — let’s suppose a civil servant wants to work something out with a businessman, or a speculator, or some thug. Well, if the civil servant is alone, he’ll probably do it. A civil servant, a police officer, a National Guard soldier. But, if the civil servant is there alongside the organized popular power, they won’t be able to [act in a corrupt manner].

Therefore, fellow compatriots, we have to work hand in hand — government and popular power, united, as Commander Hugo Chavez said, and the civil-military union. The army, the police, and the popular power. If the popular power does not ingrain itself to the government’s actions, this war will become really difficult. Why? Because the government is small compared to the great size of the popular power.

I really believe in popular power. Whenever we go to Catia, El Junquito, La Pastora, we’re there. By the way, today – with this internal schedule that puts us everywhere at once – we swore in La Pastora. Today we’re swearing in El Junquito, at 5:00 PM at Kilometer 10. And we’re also swearing in…

PSUV Deputy: People Know Country’s Problems “Not Our Fault”

PSUV National Assembly deputy William Fariñas said in a radio interview earlier today that people will not vote against the PSUV on December 6 because they know that the crises affecting the country are not the party’s fault.

Fariñas said:

There will be no voto castigo [“vote punishment” against the PSUV] no matter how angry people are because they know that the country’s situation is not our fault. Furthermore, no one will vote against the legacy of the Supreme Commander [Chavez].

Fariñas’ statements are at odds with public opinion polls that show that Venezuelans overwhelmingly blame the Maduro government and the PSUV for the condition the country is in.

While Fariñas did admit that the country is in dire straits, he was quick to praise the good he alleges the PSUV has done for the country:

We can’t hide the fact that there’s a crisis affecting the country, but at the same time we can’t cut social spending. There are more than 12 million children studying for free, as well as health in the country [sic]. It’s incredible how much the government spends on homes. This means the Bolivarian government has honored social investments and inclusion.


Questions/Comments? E-mail me: invenezuelablog@gmail.com


One thought on “10.22.15: Mr. Watch

  1. Pingback: 10.23.15: Cyber Terrorism | In Venezuela

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