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“Venezuela” shows up on 241,000 documents in the Panama Papers

Leaked files include names of ex-presidential security chief and wife, who amassed a fortune

Velásquez Figueroa was security chief to deceased Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.
Velásquez Figueroa was security chief to deceased Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. REUTERS

In 2007, Adrián José Velásquez Figueroa, then the security chief at the presidential palace in Caracas, opened an account in the Seychelles four days after Nicolás Maduro won the election to succeed the deceased Hugo Chávez as president of Venezuela.

He now lives in Dominican Republic with his wife, Claudia Díaz Guillén, herself a former head of the National Treasury Office and one-time nurse to Chávez.

The revelation was published on the Venezuelan website Armando.info and is part of a global investigation known as the Panama Papers, led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

The insider files also illustrate what happened in Venezuela over the last 15 years with the enormous flow of oil money

More than 370 reporters from all over the world collaborated on the project for a year, analyzing 11.5 million documents leaked by an anonymous source to the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Considered the largest leak in history, it details the way a Panama-based corporate law firm named Mossack Fonseca helped clients conceal their wealth through offshore companies in tax havens.

The word “Venezuela” cropped up in over 241,000 documents contained in the 2.6 terabytes of leaked information.

But the case of Velásquez Figueroa and his wife makes for the biggest scandal because of their ties to the Venezuelan leader, and because they would never have been able to amass such a fortune on their regular employee salaries.

The investigation, which began in June 2011, shows that Velásquez Figueroa is a state contractor; that he keeps accounts in Switzerland and Dominican Republic, where he held temporary residency until June 2015; and that he has property worth $400,000 as well as a further $1.6 million described as “personal assets.” Until he left the Venezuelan Armed Forces, Velásquez Figueroa was making no more than $200 a month.

Flow of oil money

The insider files also illustrate what happened in Venezuela over the last 15 years with the enormous flow of oil money. The Panama Papers reveal that Mossack Fonseca created tailor-made corporate structures for several Venezuelan clients who wanted to conceal their presence in incorporated companies, or else sought to generate external debt through transactions with shell companies – often owned by themselves – that could later be submitted to the relevant agencies in the Venezuela of controlled exchange rates

Although owning an offshore company is not a crime in itself, the documents show that banks, legal firms and other offshore actors often failed to follow legal requirements to ensure that their clients were not involved in criminal activities, tax evasion or political corruption.

English version by Susana Urra.

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