JVS arrests Venezuelan businessman with Aruban connections
JVS arrests Venezuelan businessman with Aruban connections
Monday, December 21, 2015 14:54
HOUSTON / ORANJESTAD - Venezuelan businessman Roberto Rincón Fernandez was arrested last Saturday in Houston, USA, on suspicion of money laundering. He might have connections with the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA and the US subsidiary Citgo.
Rincón came to the authorities into the picture after the Venezuelan Chávez confidant Hugo Carvajal was arrested in Aruba. The former general showed on a private jet from Rincón to be flown to Aruba. The former general, also nicknamed 'el Pollo (chicken) would become the new Venezuelan consul general in Aruba. At the request of US authorities, however, he was arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking, or smuggling. The arrest is a diplomatic row because Venezuela believes that Carvajal because of his impending appointment, has enjoyed diplomatic immunity. Following intervention by the Netherlands, he was released but 'persona non grata' explained. He is no longer welcome in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Rincon is known in Aruba. He reportedly has a few apartments in the famous and expensive Coral Pyramid building at LG Smith Boulevard. Also gave the Venezuelan magnate regularly lavish parties at various hotels with performances by world stars such as Juan Luis Guerra and Oscar de Leon. He would also have been involved in bringing together members of the government, Valero and Citgo for negotiating the refinery in San Nicolas.
Rincón has to answer according to the Miami Herald next week before a federal judge. The newspaper writes that are performed alongside Rincón there are also two other arrests in this case.
A leading contractor for Venezuela’s state oil company and another businessman were arrested by U.S. authorities last week on charges of bribing foreign government officials, wire fraud and money laundering, a Justice Department spokesman confirmed Monday.
The arrests are the first in the U.S. as part of a wide-ranging investigation of the company, Petróleos de Venezuela, and its former executives that was first reported in October by The Wall Street Journal. Peter Carr, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said the two men had been charged with violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Roberto Rincón, 55 years old, a Venezuelan who owns companies in Houston and Venezuela, was arrested in Houston on Wednesday, said Mr. Carr.
Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas, 52, a Venezuelan who lives in Coral Gables, Fla., and is listed as a majority owner of oil equipment provider Vertix and as president of Marcaibo, Venezuela-based Emea Venezuela SA, was arrested in Miami, also on Wednesday.
Samuel Louis, a Houston-based lawyer, said Mr. Rincón denies the allegations and is looking forward to challenging the government’s case. Lawyers for Mr. Shiera Bastidas couldn't immediately be identified.
A representative at Emea Venezuela declined to comment. A representative of Vertix couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
“The case is related to an alleged fraudulent and corrupt scheme to secure energy contracts from Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company,” said Mr. Carr.
The arrests come as U.S. prosecutors have separately intensified their investigation of drug trafficking, money laundering and other crimes in Venezuela that allegedly involve high-ranking military officers and officials in President Nicolás Maduro’s government. A U.S. official recently said that indictments would soon be unsealed against two National Guard generals charging them with conspiracy to traffic cocaine. As many as six other people from Venezuela’s armed forces could also be charged, according to people familiar with the case.
Mr. Rincón had in recent years supplied Petróleos de Venezuela with oil equipment worth some $500 million a year, becoming one of the state oil firm’s most important contractors, according to former senior executives of the oil firm.
U.S. prosecutors across multiple jurisdictions have been investigating the company, its former officials, including former director Rafael Ramírez, and contractors for allegedly looting billions through kickbacks, over-invoicing and scamming currency controls and then moving the profits via U.S. banks, according to U.S. law enforcement officials. Mr. Ramírez hasn’t responded to detailed letters seeking comment or to phone calls.
The Maduro administration hasn’t answered repeated requests for comment about the investigation into the oil company, which is known as PdVSA. A PdVSA spokesman didn’t respond on Monday to a request seeking comment. Mr. Maduro’s government routinely dismisses the U.S.’s corruption and drug-trafficking charges as part of a so-called imperialist plot to destabilize Venezuela’s leftist government.
As part of the investigation into PdVSA, U.S. investigators are looking at purchases made by the oil behemoth and its U.S. affiliate, Citgo, U.S. officials say. Mr. Rincón, has been at the center of the company’s contracting, which is being carefully scrutinized by U.S. prosecutors as part of the investigation, according to people familiar with the investigation.
Mr. Rincón, who lives in a sprawling mansion in an upscale Houston neighborhood, is listed as a director of Houston-based Tradequip Services and Marine, an oil industry supply company that cites PdVSA as a client on its website. Tradequip didn’t immediately respond to an email and telephone calls seeking comment.
A former top PdVSA official as well as a former official from an Asian oil services both told The Journal that Mr. Rincón prospered by winning rigged bids for PdVSA projects through a process known as “la tapa” or the lid. That scheme calls for well-connected firms to use shell companies to place bogus bids, thus giving the appearance of fairness, while eliminating real competition, these people said.
U.S. investigators, who are also probing whether PdVSA was used to launder drug money, are interested in Mr. Rincón’s relationship with a former general, Hugo Carvajal, according to people familiar with the investigation. Mr. Carvajal, who had once directed Venezuelan military intelligence, has been indicted in New York and Miami for his alleged involvement in drug trafficking.
Mr. Carvajal, who was elected to congress earlier this month, didn’t responded to numerous requests for comment. Other high-ranking Venezuelan officials have said the investigations against him and the indictments are part of a campaign to tarnish the government’s image.
Former top Venezuelan PdVSA officials told The Wall Street Journal that Mr. Rincón boasted about his close friendship with Mr. Carvajal. Last year, Mr. Carvajal was a passenger on a private plane provided by Mr. Rincón when the former intelligence chief was briefly detained in Aruba by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, say people familiar with the episode. Mr. Carvajal was later freed by Dutch authorities, citing diplomatic immunity.
In an August email, Gary Siller, another Houston-based lawyer for Mr. Rincón’s, said that his client, like many other Venezuelan businessmen, knows Mr. Carvajal because the former intelligence chief has held major government positions under the last two governments. “He is not a drug dealer or money launderer and has had no contact with that activity,” wrote Mr. Siller, referring to Mr. Rincón.
Mr. Rincón is an industrial engineer, Mr. Siller wrote, who worked his way up through his country’s business ranks via what he called his “excellent organizational skills.”
In an August response to a query from the Journal, Mr. Rincón said his company, which was founded in 1988, had never been involved in any “scandal or controversy.” He denied that he was the target of a “formal investigation anywhere in the world.”
—Kejal Vyas in Caracas and Dudley Althaus in Mexico City contributed to this article.
With 200% inflation in Venezuela and 850 bolivar's to the US dollar, it means
that the nightmare is coming to an end. Maduro's daughter has stashed away over a billion dollars. So where will Maduro go when he gets the boot?
Probably on a beach in Cuba.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS. I hope you are having a great morning, after a wonderful evening with family and friends. We enjoyed an amazing prime rib dinner last night and are planning on brunch in a few hours. Total decadence. Thus I apologize for my ugly column this morning, the ugliest I have ever written. So I told you I was interested in Roberto Rincón, the Venezuelan billionaire who amassed a fortune in the past decade thanks to big contracts with Petroleum of Venezuela, and attracted the attention of US authorities shortly after Hugo Carvajal’s arrest here, because El Pollo was traveling in a private plane belonging to Rincón. I was amazed to see in the local papers that the Aruba government signed some kind of agreement with CITGO recently, because in their shoes, I would be very careful not to attach my name to theirs. In fact, one of the papers thanked a certain parliamentarian from Santa Cruz for his personal involvement with PDVSA, which might result in the possible reopening of the dead refinery. Again, in his place I would be soiling my pants, in fear of being associated with any Venezuelan petrol agency now, because the whole bunch is on Uncle Sam’s poop list! Yesterday I talked to everyone I met about Rincón’s soap opera and to my total amazement I heard – put on your seat belt – that Rincón, floated the government of Aruba at the time when it was broke mid-year, with all resources frozen by the Netherlands. Yes, it was Rincón who footed the bills for all travel, hotel accommodations, and limousine pickups. Would you believe that? Evelyn wake up. We want you to ask in parliament if it is true that Rincón paid for all those airline tickets and hotel bills including the one in Spain when a certain minister from San Nicholas went to Rincon’s daughter wedding! I also want to know what’s gonna happen to all these men, hanging outside the Coral Pyramid Condominium where Rincón reportedly resided, all former local Police agents who were recruited by Rincón as his personal security force. Having resigned from the Police Corp, with the boss in US prison, are they now unemployed?? I told you it is ugly. Listen to what one of my friends told me: “The US’ Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is a ‘blunt instrument’ because even if you are not a US national or if your firm is based outside of the US, you can still be held liable under the FCPA simply if you have used/received US Currency in the furtherance of a conspiracy or overt act committed by a third party.” What does that tell you?? Here’s a piece from the official indictment: “Rincón’s purpose of this conspiracy was for him and his co-conspirators to enrich themselves by obtaining and retaining lucrative energy contracts with PDVSA through corrupt and fraudulent means including by paying bribes to PDVSA officials and providing things of value including recreation, travel meals, and entertainment in order to influence acts and decision.” In other words, the ministers got their bills paid and all they had to do was support that crazy idea that the refinery can be revived. Bottom line: With oil prices the way they are, and with the refinery’s disastrous state of repair, hell will freeze over first, before the refinery opens.