US is investigating kickbacks in the oil giant Petróleos de Venezuela

Politicians and former top managers of state-owned Venezuelan company are suspected of transferring billions abroad.
In 2006, the leaders of one of the largest construction companies in Spain have arrived in Venezuela to hold talks with Rafael Ramirez, the then president of the state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). They wanted to discuss the participation in the tender for the construction of a $ 1.5 billion power plant for PDVSA. But in the presidential suite of JW Marriott Hotel Caracas Diego Salazar, a cousin of Ramirez, immediately got down to business:. To defeat the Spaniards have to roll back at least $ 150 million ", otherwise return to the airport," - Salazar said, he recalls one of those present at business meeting.

The Spaniards have done so, but many other businessmen were willing to play by the rules of PDVSA, say people who have worked with the company until his retirement in 2014. Ramirez
Now the United States launched a series of large-scale investigations to find out whether to use the Venezuelan state company leaders to bring billions of dollars abroad through kickbacks and other schemes, according to people familiar with the situation. Also in the US are trying to understand whether used PDVSA and its foreign bank accounts for other illegal purposes, including money laundering bydrug trafficking and operations on the black currency market. Investigations lead prosecutors in several states.

Ramirez, now Venezuela's ambassador to the UN, and Salazar did not respond to written requests for comment and telephone calls. Of PDVSA, Venezuela's Ministry of Transport and Communications, General Prosecutor's Office and the administration of President Nicolas Maduro also did not respond. In the past, officials have usually denied corruption allegations, calling them attempts of the opposition related to the US and other "foreign enemies" to destabilize the country and overthrow the government.
Earlier in October, federal prosecutors in New York, Washington, Missouri, and Texas met in order to coordinate the investigation and exchange of evidence, say people familiar with the situation. But while on the PDVSA case was not charged with any crime, and perhaps this will not happen.

Problems with the economy

According to IMF estimates, this year the GDP of Venezuela could be reduced by 10%, and inflation to reach 160%. The country is suffering from the fall of the national currency, the dying industry and the inability to pay for themort of medicines and foods.

When Ramirez PDVSA finally become one of the most efficient oil companies in the world as a tool of the socialist revolution of the late President Hugo Chavez. Oil revenues went to pay for housing, household goods and food for the poor. It helped him win the election, but deprived the oil industry funds needed for investment. Aircraft company used to transport ministers families and allies ¬ from the President of Bolivia to the commanders of the Colombian rebels. Some familiar Ramirez argued that during that time he amassed a huge fortune. "His heart was on the left, but the purse safely tucked away to the right", - said one of his former associates. He also noted "very refined tastes," Ramirez, who prefers wine Chateau Petrus, costing thousands of dollars per bottle.

Ramirez suspicious of strangers, so the senior positions appointed relatives say worked closely with them people. For example, his mother-in-Hildegard Rondon was the main lawyer in the Ministry of Energy, held in-law Baldo SansoI have many international tenders PDVSA, and his wife Beatrice Sanso managed cultural projects of the company. "He ran the company like a family business", - says a person close to the current leadership of PDVSA.

The key figure for his cousin was Ramirez Salazar, assured sources. Their fathers were rebels-Marxists, and when one of them was in prison, the other took care of his family. Because of this they have become "closer than brothers," says a former senior government official. Ramirez and Salazar believed that Venezuela should abandon the pro-American course. Fortunately for them, the presidential election in 1998, Chávez won, and in 2002, Ramirez, an engineer by training, was appointed energy minister, and in 2004 - the president of PDVSA. Soon one of the top managers of the company began to Salazar.

Initiation of an investigation

In March this year, the US Treasury department to investigate financial crimes (FinCEN) has received a rare opportunity to trace the money flows PDVSA. It announced that the Andorran bank Banca Privada d'Andorra (BPA) Execuzuetsya for money laundering allegedly Venezuelan officials and criminals from Russia and China.

As stated by FinCEN, BPA bankers helped officials from Venezuela to launder more than $ 4 billion, of which $ 2 billion was "pumped" from PDVSA. As a result, the Andorran and Spanish authorities took control of the BPA and Banco Madrid, its subsidiary. The Spanish authorities are now conducting an investigation against Ramirez, Salazar, and their partners, say knowledgeable people.

In May, the Andorran authorities have prepared extensive documentation for the US Department of Justice and the Venezuelan authorities to ask for help in the investigation. Andorran authorities declined to comment. But in one of the papers, seen the WSJ, said suspicious transactions and requests the US law enforcement agencies to provide information on approximately 20 companies and individuals, including the leading Venezuelan bankers, former employees of PDVSA and its joint ventures with foreign oil companies.

According to these documents, bogus companies from Panama, Belize and the British Virgin Islands was transferred hundreds of millions of dollars Mr.Salazar accounts in Andorra. Presumably this money have to do with corruption in politics, it is said in the documents. Also in the documents listed payments at millions of dollars, many of which, apparently, Salazar moved Venezuelan officials and top managers of PDVSA.

According to the transcript of wiretapping Spanish police, Salazar once even gave a bribe of $ 80 thousand Venezuelan police, so she ignored the suspicious transaction. "Here at all," - he said with a laugh assistant Salazar, speaking about the case Andorran banker suggests transcript.

The scheme also involved the company from China, it is clear from the documents. Thus, from December 2011 to September 2012 five construction and oil Chinese companies posted $ 154 million in the accounts of bogus Panamanian company Salazar. According to the documents, the money was the commission for "consulting services" in the amount of up to 15% of the amount of signed contracts. What those services not specified. Chinese companies did not respond to a request for comment.

Game currency

PDVSA management also by-zaraated using a complex monetary system of Venezuela, sources say. This was possible because of the huge difference between the official exchange rate (6.3 bolivars per dollar) and the rate on the black market (now about 800 bolivars per dollar).

In March 2012, according to the Andorran documents, Ramirez ordered PDVSA to open a credit line in Bolivar, the company that hired his close friend's consultant. Repay the loan in the amount of 17.9 billion bolivars expected in dollars. Then, the official exchange rate was equal to 4.3 bolivar / $, and on it debt was $ 4.16 billion. But on the black market if currency can be exchanged at 9.3 bolivar. Thus, theoretically, the creditor could attract the necessary amount for the issuance of Bolivar just $ 1.92 billion, and after repayment of the loan in dollars to get a $ 2 billion profit. Andorran investigators suggest that the loan had no financial need. According to them, in fact it was a sham transaction will allow partners Ramirez receive a minimum of $ 70 million commission.

Commit fraudulent operation was difficult because of the lack of financial controlI say former and current employees of PDVSA. As a result of the $ 15 billion that the company paid annually on contracts for equipment and services, up to $ 3 billion in kickbacks were its top managers, businessmen and other government officials, say people familiar with the situation. "The company was systemic corruption", - says a former top manager of PDVSA. According to him, now investigators in New York have "all - contracts, memoranda and e-mails."

Once PDVSA was interested in buying a boat with seismographic equipment worth $ 125 million, but its top executives would pay twice as much and split the profits, says a representative of the oil industry. "You can not assign a real value, - said the former government official. - You have to pay a commission, and if not, you just do not pay. "

According to a former employee of Asian oilfield services company, in recent years he regularly paid hundreds of dollars in cash and gave, for example, the clock only to arrange a meeting with the managers of PDVSA middle managers.rum of tenders for state-owned projects were often falsified, he said. Often used a scam called "cover": the company, which had a good connection with of PDVSA, filed bogus applications using front companies, creating the appearance of competition.

Because of such practices, and hostility to the West of Venezuela, most American and European companies out of the game, replaced by companies from Iran, Russia and China, say former officials.

But now, thanks to the growing anarchy in Venezuela Investigators from the United States attract as witnesses former employees, contractors and PDVSA bankers, sources said. The Americans even want to cooperate with Ramirez. He has soured relations with old partners, and in 2014 he was removed from office PDVSA president and energy minister, and his appointment as ambassador to the UN look like a fall. Upon arrival in New York Ramirez even dissolved the Venezuelan state of mission, because he was sure he was being followed, said another ambassador. Ramirez also rarely involved in diplomatic activities. "He's a loner who rarelyspeaks to anyone, "- said one of the diplomats.