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The conspiracy that plundered PDVSA paid $19 million to the company’s lawyers

The conspiracy that plundered PDVSA paid $19 million to the company’s lawyers

A photo taken on April 16, 2023 shows the headquarters of Petroleos de Argentina, SA (PDVSA), in Caracas (Venezuela). EFE/Miguel Gutierrez

Oral contracts, glass transactions across companies, labyrinthine schemes to hide the money trail. The stolen items were turned into exclusive homes… Former lawyer of Petroleos de Argentina SA (PDVSA) and CFO of the state company Electricidad de Caracas, Luis Carlos de Leon Perez, raised $19 million from the investigated plot to plunder $2,000 million from Venezuela’s public energy company. This was stated in a report issued by the Financial Intelligence Unit of Andorra (Uifand), which EL PAÍS newspaper was able to access, and which is part of the investigations conducted by a court in the Pyrenees into the looting of the oil company.

The former lawyer earned part of his fortune through a complex network of companies with tentacles in Panama, Switzerland and Andorra, to which his wife Andreina Gamez Rodriguez belongs. The couple channeled $25 million and hatched a plan to acquire a 4,000 square meter luxury property in Caracas and four properties in Madrid. His total investment in bricks amounted to nine million.

Most of the transfers that fueled the couple’s accounts – some of which were justified under the guise of supposed “oral contracts” – were organized through active (passive) companies. This mechanism was behind the deputy energy minister in Hugo Chavez’s government between 2004 and 2006, Nerves Villalobos. Another sum of money reached PDVSA’s former lawyer through the network’s alleged front man, Luis Mariano Rodríguez Cabello of Caracas, who moved $1,144 million through 11 secret accounts in Andorra, according to the documents.

The network that plundered PDVSA, between 2007 and 2012, was made up of about three dozen former officials of the powerful state company and former Chavista leaders. It included in its ranks prominent men from the era of former President Hugo Chavez (1999-2013), such as former deputy ministers. Energy Nerves Villalobos and Javier Alvarado. The group developed a scheme to hide the collection of illegal commissions. Some members allegedly received 10% from businessmen, mainly Chinese, who received public contracts from the energy company and its subsidiaries. To hide the flow of money, the conspiracy moved its loot through a mysterious network of accounts at Banca Privada D’Andora (BPA), 7,400 kilometers from Caracas. The extranet was distributed through thirty companies in Switzerland and Belize.

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De Leon, Villalobos and Rodriguez Cabello are part of the 30 people tried in 2018 by an Andorran court. They are accused of being part of a network that takes kickbacks from businessmen – mainly Chinese – in exchange for facilities from Venezuela’s public energy company.

Villalobos, the former deputy minister of Chavista, turned to his Panamanian musical instrument company Lomond Overseas SA in August 2008 to sign a contract with one of the shadowy companies affiliated with the state corporation’s former lawyer, Ribston Investments. The alleged ruse was a justification for transferring $5.5 million under the pretext of alleged “help” services.

Through another company with no Panamanian activity, Megana International Ltd., Villalobos also settled an alleged debt of eight million dollars with the firm of the former PDVSA lawyer. In both operations, Andorran investigators believe it was a money transfer that did not correspond to real activity, as neither Villalobos nor de León provided documents proving their operations.

To hide the money, De Leon and his wife became agents of BPA, the entity in which PDVSA thieves hid their $2,000 million in loot between 2007 and 2015.

The lawyer managed two accounts in this entity through tool companies and was the owner of a third encrypted account between 2008 and 2013. De Leon appeared before the bank in 2008 as a 48-year-old lawyer. He said he chose the Pyrenees country – which until 2017 remained protected by banking secrecy – for opacity and security. He indicated that he planned to transfer the funds quarterly to BPA, where he planned to deposit between 2.5 and 5 million, according to Know Your Customer (Know Your Customer, in English), which is a type of third degree in which the financial institution explains the source of the funds according to the documents.

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Brick store in Spain

De Leon’s wife, Andrina Gamez Rodriguez, a 47-year-old Venezuelan, controlled two accounts at BPA in the name of beneficial companies between 2009 and 2014 and was the owner of a third. When he arrived at the bank, he announced that he needed to transfer one million euros to a company in Madrid to buy a property. Gamez Rodriguez was listed in 2010 as the sole director and owner of the Sansobino 1977 real estate company in Madrid. In 2019, the last year it filed its accounts, this company accumulated assets worth $2.8 million, according to the trading platform Informa.

Moreover, according to the Spanish Real Estate Register, in 2011 the Madrid company of de León’s wife acquired a duplex house of 221 square meters and three parking spaces at number four Tahona Street in the Spanish capital. Jamez Rodriguez signed a contract in 2010 to purchase the property for $2.5 million.

The brick installation did not stop there. In 2009, de Leon reserved, through a Spanish real estate agency, two houses and four parking spaces valued at more than one million euros. His wife signed a contract that same year to buy a third property in Madrid in the project known as Paseo de la Habana. The package included three parking spaces and cost 665,540 euros.

This newspaper also reviewed the purchase option contract, which reveals the intention of the lawyer and his wife to acquire the “Maricarmen” house in December 2012 in the city of Barota, Miranda state, in Caracas. The building area is 800 square meters, and the property extends over an area of ​​4,000 square meters. The couple agreed to pay $5.2 million. The energy company’s lawyer went to its financial network in Andorra, which served as a gateway for sending money to other members of the organization. Their accounts transferred $8.4 million to the accounts of Villalobos and former Chavista Deputy Energy Secretary Javier Alvarado.

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In addition to his work in Andorra, where he was tried in 2018 on charges of money laundering and belonging to a bribery network, de Leon links multiple fronts to justice. A Texas court issued an arrest warrant for him in 2017 and he was detained in Madrid. In 2018, he was convicted of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), according to a document from the Houston District Attorney’s Office cited by Infobae. El País tried in vain to obtain a copy from de Leon and his wife through their lawyers in Andorra.