Venezuela bleeds dollars: The Ecuadorian connection (Part I)

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By El Universo newspaper

The route followed by USD 228 million connected houses in the outlying districts of Guayaquil; offices in Quito and Panama; PO boxes that are the legal addresses of businesses in Miami; yacht and aircraft companies in Florida; companies in Hong Kong and Peru; bank accounts in Panama, the Bahamas and Anguilla… Nine Venezuelan businessmen were at the heart of this business that was in existence for less than two years.

The money arrived in Ecuador as payment for purported sales to Venezuela and left the country within a few days, mainly towards the United States and Panama. The transactions were made through the Sucre clearing system, which allowed advance payments. They could even be made before the goods were shipped. Some of the exports were overvalued, others never materialized.

Sixty Venezuelan and thirty Ecuadorian companies took part in the operations that generated these USD 228 million. Business came to an end after the bankruptcy of two financial institutions in Ecuador: Banco Territorial and the cooperative Coopera.

Meanwhile, the Prosecutor’s Office is investigating a possible money-laundering scheme through banking transactions from Venezuela amounting to USD 159 million received by a transnational company based in Ecuador that manufactured prefabricated houses. Two contractors from the Venezuelan government, in charge of building working-class housing within the framework of Gran Misión Vivienda (the government’s housing scheme), sent the money.

El Universo newspaper  (Ecuador), the newspaper El Nuevo Herald (Miami) and the website www.armando.info (Venezuela) monitored the USD 228 million that arrived in Ecuador and determined that 84 million left through bank transfers to 12 countries.

This report was prepared with support from the Initiative for Investigative Journalism in the Americas of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), in partnership with Connectas.

Venezuelan dollars left Ecuador towards the US and Panama

 The officers found Dolores, 56, in her home, a house with a tin roof and an enclosure made of guadua cane in the cooperative Paraíso de la Flor, in northwest Guayaquil. It was mid-2013 and they were investigating a supplier of carrots for export to Venezuela. But there were no crops in the property and she knew nothing about the business. Dolores told them she registered at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to receive a “bonus” of USD 30 per month.

Several similar testimonies confirmed that two Quito exporters paid this “bonus” in the outlying districts of Guayaquil in exchange for registering at the IRS. With this document they sent for invoices to be printed to bill themselves and massage their accounts.

The companies were Espinosa & Castellanos Comercializadora Internacional Cía. Ltda. (Escastell) and Prospermundo S.A., which received USD 27.8 million through the Sucre clearing system for the sales of vegetables and agricultural machinery to Venezuela between November 2011 and May 2013. The authorities detected counterfeit invoices and surcharges. They charged USD 410,200 for a corn sheller that cost 2,473.

Escastell’s partners were the Colombian Adriano Castellanos P. and the Ecuadorian Byron Espinosa B., while Prospermundo was constituted by Castellanos and Espinosa’s wife, Rosalin Mogollón A. The Ecuadorian couple is in prison, sentenced to four years for money laundering. The accounting assistant who delivered the “bonuses”, Wendy Cedeño l., was sentenced to eight months. Castellanos, meanwhile, lives in Bogota and took a call: “I’m not going to talk about this. This is for lawyers to handle”, he said. The case against him has been suspended until he travels to Ecuador.

According to reports of the legal proceedings, of the USD 27.8 million received by Escastell and Prospermundo, 8.35 million went to three Venezuelans: Samuel Sánchez Boada (3.85 million), Pedro Emilio Silva Conde and his cousin Gustavo Conde Cabrera (4.5 million). This figure includes the money received by the Ecuadorian company GuadalupeFarms, whose founding partners were the two cousins.

Silva Conde appears as representative of Inversiones Siltor 2009, an American firm that signed a commercial commission agreement with Prospermundo in September 2012. Siltor received USD1 million from Escastell. It also received another million from Mercaimpex (Tulcán), which in turn had received 17.6 million through the Sucre system. The documents of the trial against Escastell show that a post office box in Miami was given as the address for the money transfers. The owner of that PO box, Pedro Antar, told El Nuevo Herald that Silva Conde had done this behind his back. “This is fraud, it’s abuse”, claimed Antar, who explained that he had known Silva for almost a decade and four years ago had helped him to establish two companies in Florida, but then canceled them. “I don’t know anything about deals with Ecuador, or with Silva or Sánchez Boada”, he said. These companies were Fondo Global de Construcciones Sac and Inmobiliaria & Constructora JAAR Sac Corp.

Related exporters

The Venezuelans received money from other Ecuadorian firms: Samuel Sánchez, USD 4.38 million and Pedro Silva, 110,000. Some are related. For example, De Todo Un Poco and Imporplace are shareholders of Bestitan, Grurosalli, Negberry, Starlexa and Gruyaseli. Distribuciones Stortelt and Teksolsa can be added to these. The representatives of these export companies have been searched for without success, and most of the firms have been dissolved by the Superintendent of Companies. Their addresses do not exist or are inaccurate. Over six months, however, their bank accounts received USD 53.64 million from Venezuela, through Sucre.

For example, Bestitan is registered in Guasmo Oeste, Guayaquil, but nobody there knows it. It is the same case with Teksolsa, located on Trinitarian Island, near the estuary. One of the people named as shareholders works for an insurance company, but said he did not even know the name of the firm Teksolsa.

De Todo Un Poco received USD 3.1 million from Prospermundo, paid in checks with the heading return on investment for Pedro Silva, as stated in a report by the Superintendent of Companies.

Another group of exporters includes Juecrey, Neheminvest and Oseasdany, which received USD 12.45 million through Sucre. Its owner was Nimrod Pantoja, a bus driver for Guayaquil’s line 38. His sister was surprised, since Pantoja died on 21 March 2013 and had no assets. “He died in a strange way, there was no diagnosis”, she said.

Court reports mention transfers for USD 9.05 million to two companies in the US and 100,000 to another located in Charlestown, Nevis Island (Antilles). One of them is Global Supplies and Equipment Services in Weston (Florida), considered one of the enclaves of the Venezuelan community in the US. It also received transfers from Samuel Sánchez and Transadi, which had received 5.96 million through Sucre. Between January and May 2013, Global obtained 10.15 million.

As part of the process, two invoices accounted for transfers for almost a million dollars from Banco Territorial. The documents have different formats and both include the same mistake in the address. El Nuevo Herald verified that the address corresponds to an abandoned house, despite the company being active. Its Venezuelan representative is Nelson Contreras Chávez, a trucking entrepreneur based in his own country who has represented five other firms in Florida, now dissolved.

Contreras declared to Armando.info that he knows Sánchez Boada but has not heard from him for a long time, since he lent Sánchez money that he never paid back. He believes his could be a case of identity theft, because he has not received any transfers from Ecuador. “I opened the business in Miami thinking about moving there, but I never did. The company is still active on paper, but in fact there has been no activity for several years”, he said.

Another destination in the US was Yachting Experts, a yacht broker from Coconut Grove, Miami. It received USD 2.52 million from Sánchez, Neheminvest and Juecrey. The company’s manager, Frank De Varona, refused to talk.

Finally, Sánchez Boada acquired a Lear 55 light aircraft (registration N 550JB), in late 2012, for USD 1 million from Aeronet Consulting Corp in Fort Lauderdale (Florida). A representative of Aeronet said the purchase was made on behalf of a company in Delaware, Lear 55 Holdings Inc., because Sánchez is not a US citizen. Sánchez made another transfer for USD 490,000 for aircraft manufacturer Bombardier Aerospace Corporation.

All these companies also sent money to Panama (2.8 million), Hong Kong (2.2 million), Venezuela (1.2 million), The Bahamas (1 million), the Antilles (700,000) and Colombia (460,000).

The legal proceedings against Sánchez and Silva have been suspended until they return to Ecuador to answer for Escastell and Prospermudo’s operations. The companies received USD 27.8 million through Sucre. In this case, the Prosecutor’s Office could prove that “bonuses” had been delivered, invoices had been forged and exports had been overcharged.

In the case of the other firms that participated in this scheme and collected USD 89.65 million, there is no trial. There have been transactions between this group of companies and others that the Prosecution has investigated because they operated in Coopera, which closed in June 2013. Many of these operations were carried out using forged documents. The Ecuadorian firms received USD 53.7 million through the Sucre system; behind them was Venezuelan Luis Carmona Salazar.

Importers sanctioned for failing to justify use of dollars

While they managed businesses in Ecuador, Venezuelans Samuel Sánchez Boada and Pedro Silva Conde used to meet at the Hotel República in north central Quito to negotiate exports to Venezuela, reported employees of the companies Escastell and Prospermundo to the Prosecutor’s Office. The companies’ top management also attended these meetings: Colombian Adriano Castellanos Pedraza and Ecuadorian Byron Espinosa Barreros. An employee of the accounting area reported that the Venezuelans provided the list of importers to whom the products should be sent, mainly chemicals and agricultural machinery.

The importing companies changed dollars at a preferential rate of 4.30 bolivars. The Ecuadorian companies received the currency through the Sucre system. Part of the money received was transferred to Sánchez and Silva’s accounts in Ecuador in dollars, which in Venezuela fluctuated between 12 and 24 bolivars in the months in which the transactions were made.

Sánchez Boada introduced himself as a representative of Agro Industrias Enmary 777, which is based in Lecherías, Venezuela. A company with the same name also existed in Miami, but it was dissolved in 2011, and another one is based in Delaware (US). Between 2011 and 2012, Agro Industrias Enmary 777 received money on loan from Grupo Mantex, a Venezuelan consortium that has interests in a score of companies involved in construction, real estate, advertising, etc. This according to a report issued by Deloitte in April 2014.

In Mantex Metrópolis, Pedro Silva Conde and his cousin Gustavo Conde Cabrera are alternates in the board of directors. The cousins founded the Ecuadorian GuadalupeFarms S.A. This company and Conde Cabrera received payments amounting to USD 3.7 million from Escatell in Ecuador. Conde Cabrera’s father, Gustavo Conde Delfino, member of the board of Mantex Metróplis, and Mantex Investments Ltd. (Barbados) received USD 1.1 million from another group of Ecuadorian exporters.

Pedro Silva Conde agreed to an interview in Caracas, at the headquarters of Mantex, although he was busy because, he said, his father was having surgery. But he did not reply when contacted again.

Agro Industrias Enmary 777 was sanctioned by the Venezuelan authorities for failing to justify the use of dollars at the official price for its imports. Diario El Universo attempted to contact Sánchez Boada through the company’s email addresses but they are no longer in use.

Another six Venezuelan importers, which bought at least USD 13.5 million from the exporters in this group, have also been sanctioned. They are: Asociación Labriegos del Campo, Comercializadora Broki, Importadora Mi Gran Sacrificio, Quimiorbis, Intercolven and Importadora de Alimentos Siglo XXI.

Armando.info journalists visited the headquarters of Importadora Mi Gran Sacrificio at store 26 of the Santa Bárbara shopping center in Cúa (State of Miranda). Everything was closed, the door was covered in cobwebs and the electricity bills were accumulated in the window’s grill. The neighbors said they did not know who occupied that office. The other importers could not be contacted.

Sánchez and Silva have been called to trial in Ecuador for alleged money laundering, however, the process has been suspended until they come forward. In September last year, Sánchez created the company Petreleon Trade Corp in Panama. In July of the same year, the Conde and Silva cousins and Ricardo Galindo Gimón created seven companies in Panama. They all have the names of Venezuelan importers that appear among another group of companies investigated by the Ecuadorian Prosecutor, and whose activities have caused two people to be sentenced for money laundering.

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