Journalism investigation reveals a labyrinth of military business in Venezuela

The research made it for six months by a journalist team from OCCRP, shows the connection between companies to high-level officers from the Venezuelan Armed Force and their relatives, that access to foreign-exchange Cadivi or government contracts.

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Nicolas Maduro and his Ministry of Defense General Wladimir Padrino López.

An investigation completed by journalists from the Organized Crime and Corruptión Reporting Project (OCCRP) reveals the network of companies and real estates in the United States, belonging to relatives of Ministry of Defense, General Vladimir Padrino López, and a corporative labyrinth built by 35 Generals from the Armed Force that won 225 contracts with state companies.

Through his wife for 20-years, Yarazedt Betancourt and other relatives show the family labyrinth that including companies and properties worth in millions of dollars in the United States and Venezuela.

Research by Organized Crime and Corruptión Reporting Project (OCCRP) found that one of these companies is Trámites Consultares, Inc, registered in Texas in 2010, which services include assistance in obtaining a Venezuelan passport, passport extensions, and translation services, and even targets people seeking political asylum in America.

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For six months, reporters piece together internal Venezuelan Armed Force documents. The OCCRP, a global investigative journalism organization, dedicated to border crime, laundering scheme, and international corruption, led the project.

“A corrupt official, after being sanctioned by the U.S. government, nevertheless continued to own property and run businesses in the U.S. through family members,” said Gary Kalman, a founding member of FACT Coalition, a U.S. group that advocates for financial accountability and corporate transparency.

The 35 Club

But Padrino is not alone. OCCRP also found that 35 Venezuelan Generals started 42 private companies allows to do business with the government. Together obtained 225 contracts, despite that in Venezuela it is illegal for public officials to use their office for personal benefit, either directly or through a third party. That includes capitalizing on personal connections to win state contracts.

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Those companies started in the last decades. They are involved in sectors like construction, food, transportation, oil, and other areas as advertising, healthcare equipment, toys, and tourism winning 225 contracts with state companies over the years.

“It becomes like a military doctrine for some officers to create a company,” said Pedro Mendoza, formerly a lieutenant in Venezuela’s National Guard, a branch of the armed forces, who deserted in 2019 and crossed the border to neighboring Colombia.

He described the Maduro administration’s attitude towards its generals as, “You protect me, you keep me in power, and I give you the possibility of economic benefits.”

Further investigation also shows that the lifestyles of some generals are wildly incompatible with their wages. Payment records obtained by OCCRP show that a lieutenant earns, on average, $6.30 a month, while a general gets just $8.90.

Offshore jurisdiction

“There has been no will to review what is happening with those officers who are linked to a political sector and handle large amounts of money,” human rights lawyer, Alonso Medina, said.

Information about companies linked to the Venezuelan generals in this story was gleaned from the National Contractors Registry.

Until three years ago, it was publicly available and included information such as company addresses, the identities of shareholders and board members, and details of public contracts.

Then in 2017, the government severely limited the information on the registry, deleting the names of people involved in companies. In a day, Venezuela became almost as opaque as an offshore jurisdiction.

You can read the complete research by the OCCRP titled How Venezuela Bought Military Loyalty

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