Yesterday, The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) began to release what it is calling the Panama Papers, a set of over 11.5 million documents from the Mossack Fonseca law firm in Panama. The law firm helped the world’s richest and most powerful people create and manage shell corporations around the globe.

So far, the media has released information regarding three of the firm’s Venezuelan clients. One of them is the former head of security for the presidential palace under Chavez,  Adrian Jose Velasquez Figueroa. Velasquez’s wife served as National Treasurer for two years.

Creating or owning a shell corporation is not illegal in itself. However, shell corporations play a crucial role in the world’s underground economy, since they facilitate illegal activities such as tax evasion and money laundering.

Former Commander-in-Chief of Army Named in Papers

The Panama Papers also contain information on the former head of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces, Victor Cruz Weffer. Weffer was the president of the National Fund for Urban Development between 2000 and 2001. In late 2001, Weffer fell out of favour with Chavez after being accused of mismanaging $113 million of the fund’s money. According to the ICIJ, Weffer  acquired shares in a shell company operating out of the Seychelles called Univers Investments Ltd. one month before he was charged with embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money.

The ICIJ contacted Weffer about his involvement with Univers Investments Ltd., to which Weffer replied:

If you navigate the Internet, you can verify that the Seychelles are a group of islands in Africa, where I never was. Therefore, it is not possible that I could register any company in that place. You can easily check my trips abroad in the exit and entry records of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Former PDVSA Executive Also Named

Aside from Weffer and Valesquez, the Panama Papers contain information on a man named Jesus Villanueva. According to the leaked files, Villanueva has power of attorney over a shell company called Blue Sea Enterprise Corp.

Villanueva served as PDVSA’s general auditor before becoming a director of the organization in 2002. He left the board of directors in 2008, but continued to work as PDVSA’s auditor. The ICIJ file contains the following piece of information about Villanueva:

Villanueva exposed in a 2009 PdVSA confidential memo costly problems with a nationwide food supply network created by Chavez and PdVSA; an audit revealed that only 25 percent of the more than $2.2 million in food imports ordered by mid-2008 had reached Venezuela within six months after payment.

MUD Deputy: Former PSUV Officials Named in Leak Must Provide Answers

MUD deputy Ismael Garcia issued a press release today in which he blames the national government for being “an accomplice” in what he considers to be the systematic looting of the country’s coffers over the last seventeen years. The release also praises the journalists involved in the Panama Papers for their work on the leak, and that:

… we assure you that from the [National Assembly’s] Comptroller Commission we will get to the bottom of the corruption and of the [revelations involving] former Venezuelan officials in this fraud, as is the case in Andorra and other [instances].

In a statement to the media, Garcia’s tone became more severe as he compared Maduro and the rest of the PSUV to mafia members, given the country’s severe scarcity crisis:

Over the last ten years, the government has spent $330 billion to import medicine and food. We’re being governed by capos [a mafia member] and mafias that came to enrich themselves and gain power in the name of the poor.

University Professors Declare Emergency Over Missing Paycheques

The Asociacion de Profesores de la Universidad Central de Venezuela [Universidad Central de Venezuela Professors’ Association] (APUCV) and its sister organization at the Universidad Simon Bolivar (APUSB) warned today that they will begin strike action unless the much-publicized increases to the minimum monthly salary in November and February are applied to them as well.

Victor Marquez, the president of the APUCV, explained:

We’re at the doorstep of a new conflict, since this situation has become intolerable. All professors receive an income that is far away from the basic nutritious food basket, which is sitting today at Bs. 121,975.4. The highest earning professors brings in Bs. 36,812 [per month].

The basic nutritious food basket is a measure used to calculate the amount of money required to meet the nutritional requirements of a family of five for one month.

Should the unions get their demands, they would see their monthly salaries raised by 30% (corresponding to the November increase) and then 20% (corresponding to the February increase).

Motta Dominguez Posts Video from Guri Dam

Minister of Electrical Energy Luis Motta Dominguez posted a video on YouTube today taken from inside the Guri dam showing the critically low water levels inside the reservoir.

Below, the video along with my translation:

Motta Dominguez: Comrades, compatriots. We’re recording a home-made video with our telephones. Here, where I’m standing normally,  we’re at the 30-meters-below-water mark. Think about how low the Guri [water levels] have dropped, looking over there into the distance. [To the cameraperson: Please, show over there so they can see back there. Ok, now look over here. Show this here]. This little stream is practically dry. If this dries up, all of the water to my right will be stop feeding the water heading to the turbines. You can see – look, we have to — this isn’t a game. This is El Niño.

This inspection that we’re conduction — we’re going to order a dig, an urgent dig, so that more water can reach the turbines. Because by now, the water level is so low that even I can jump across it with a single leap what is today — what was once at 30 meters below water. El Niño isn’t a game, gentlemen. Let’s take it seriously.

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

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