By Nadeska Noriega in Vargas, additional report by Carlos Camacho.
The Colombian businessman, Alex Saab, got arrested in his private jet on June 12, by a red notice Interpol warrant, accused of being the top money launderer for the Nicolas Maduro regime.
The signature of Saab is visible all over Vargas state, where he conducted businesses with Jorge Garcia Carneiro, the pro-Maduro governor of the coastal state.
It was in that state where Saab began as a construction tycoon in 2012, involved in at least six projects, and leaving most of them unfinished. The plane that took him to Cape Verde took off from Vargas.
Saab himself hails from Barranquilla, a coastal city, not too different from La Guaira, the Vargas state capital. Saab business went beyond importing food for the subsidized boxes in the program of the Local Committees of Supply and Production (CLAP in Spanish), a scheme the U.S denounced as corrupt.
Saab has been doing business in Venezuela since 2011. First, he appeared on live television, signing an agreement with the deceased president, Hugo Chavez, and his foreign minister at that time, Nicolas Maduro. A Saab company would build subsidized housing for the Mision Vivienda (Housing Mision), a program to provide free housing in Venezuela.
Months after the signing, he was executing contracts different to Mision Vivienda in Vargas, first also in construction, then branching out into other business areas, almost all of them, at the same time.
The construction works of his companies, most of them unfinished, lies in Vargas, under the unforgiving Caribbean sun and facing the beach, for all to see, and judge. Here is his mark:
Hugo Chavez Sports Coliseum
Months before the death of Chavez announced, Saab and Garcia were already honoring his memory. The Hugo Chavez coliseum projected at the end of 2012 as part of the works developed in the coastal entity within the framework of the South American Beach Games, held in May 2014.
The contract for the coliseum was awarded directly to the company Global Construction Fund (Fondo Global de Construcción) by the Vargas Infrastructure Institute, which executed the project under the supervision of the Ministry of Sport. Although the structure was inaugurated with a big ceremony, it was unfinished. The roof was not in place, and the toilets did not work.
These details did not prevent Governor Garcia Carneiro from publicly thanking the construction company “for its commitment to finish this coliseum in 11 months,” a record time, he said. Alex Saab received the thanks himself, he attended the opening ceremony and shared the stage with the authorities, who were led by Nicolas Maduro.
The Vertical Gyms
In 2013, the Construction Fund, a property of Saab, incorporated as a company for the construction of the Sports and Culture of Peace Centers project, as was the original name of the project, but were better known as the Vertical gyms.
For this contract, Saab used as an intermediary the company Estructuras Metalicas Modernas, C.A., whose majority share is held by his Global Construction Fund.
The three structures that would be ready in the first quarter of 2015 are located in Mamo (Catia La Mar), El Cardonal (La Guaira), and Mare Abajo (Urimare). Today they are empty shells, more facades painted with the colors of the flag of Venezuela, and bare interiors dominated by rust and saltpeter.
Shopping center in the former Almacenadora Caracas
During 2012, Governor Jorge Luis Garcia Carneiro signed a contract with the company Global Construction Fund for the development of the community shopping center Catia La Mar, which would be built in the abandoned structure of Almacenadora Caracas.
According to statements made by the governor on that date, the work would develop in a mixed agreement: the company, Global Construction Fund would provide the financial resources, and the Governor Office of Vargas would handle the administration of the shopping center for a period. Despite the announcements, the construction of the Catia La Mar community shopping center never started.
On February 27, 2018, the Vargas government signed an agreement with the company, Salvafoods, so that all CLAP boxes and bags were packaging in the port of La Guaira facilities. By that time, Saab had been doing business in Venezuela for seven years. Salvafoods is one of the companies from the commercial scheme of Saab.
La Guaira Stadium
The construction of the stadium started in February 2013. At the time, Saab was busy with Hugo Chavez, the Almacenadora, and vertical gyms. Although had five projects, some of which are unfinished to this day, didn’t stop Garcia form awarding him new contracts.
On that date, it ensured that the stadium would be ready by 2014.
In the first official announcement, the stadium work was going to Saab’s Fund. Later, the company in charge of developing the structure was identified as Consorcio Estadio Los Tiburones, C.A., a firm unheard in the sports or construction world.
Although the governor of Vargas denied any relationship between Saab and the stadium work, the employees and spokespersons of Consorcio Estadio Los Tiburones were employees of either Global Construction Fund or Estructuras Metalicas, the company used for the vertical gyms project.
After four years, the stadium project went nowhere. The government of Vargas switched contractors, and signed with the Greek-Venezuelan company SMG Constructions, which concluded the first stage of the sports structure, and is currently developing the commercial area.