EspañolMaría Gabriela Chávez, the youngest daughter of the late Hugo Chávez’s first marriage, has been involved in Argentina’s latest corruption scandal. On Monday, Argentina’s prominent newspaper, Clarín, featured an article that tied Chávez’s daughter to Argentinean rice and corn exports to Venezuela, but at inflated “fair socialist” prices.
It all started in May 2013, when both governments signed an agreement that committed Argentina to export rice and corn to Venezuela, in exchange for fuel. Sergio Urribarri, governor of the Entre Ríos province in Argentina, participated in the negotiations.
“The price that Venezuela pays to rice producers is a price that gives them profitability. Thanks to the work of the planning minister, Julio De Vido, and Argentina’s ambassador in Venezuela, Carlos Cheppy, yesterday we signed the sale of 80,000 tons of rice to this brother country,” Urribari stated.
However, what rice producers did not know at the moment was that the “profitability” that Urribate was referring to would be actually for the middlemen, and not Argentina’s rice producers. The Argentinean company Bioart S.A. was the only one that received the government’s license to export the grains to Venezuela.
Bioart was created in 2009, but it wasn’t until 2013, the same year the trade agreement was signed, that the company registered with Argentina’s tax-collection agency. Roberto Vignati, a businessman who hasn’t been afraid to express his admiration for Kirchner and Hugo Chávez, was the face of the company. Likewise, María Gabriela Chávez wasn’t afraid to show her friendship with Vignati, when she shared a picture with him on her Twitter account in February.
Vignati visited Argentina’s embassy in Caracas, met with María Gabriela Chávez, and only two weeks later, the company sent its first rice shipment.
Not only was Bioart the only one allowed to export the rice and corn quota to Venezuela, it was, somehow, the one chosen by Kirchner’s administration to export these grains at a much higher price than the competition. The company could sell the rice at US$606.50 per ton, when the market value was $350-380. In fact, the price on Bioart’s exports was almost double the ones coming from Brazil and Uruguay.
While Uruguay charged $337 per ton of rice, and Brazil $300, Bioart charged $606.5 per ton for the same product. In 2014 alone, the company had already sold over 40,000 tons of rice to Venezuela, and with prices 80 percent higher than those offered on the open market, Bioart earned a total of $16 million.
The company also applied the same inflated prices to its corn exports. They charged $391.5 per ton, when the one fixed by the Ministry of Agriculture for other competitors in Argentina was $220 per ton. The Argentinean company could then sell its grains to Venezuela with a bonus of $170 per ton, which generated the company an additional $7 million.
It didn’t take too long for corn and rice exporters to realize Bioart’s newly acquired privileges. Even though the Chamber of Rice Industries from the province of Entre Ríos denounced this, they didn’t received a single response from the authorities. One of the main complaints presented by the National Rice Federation (FEDENAR) is also that Bioart is not even a rice producer. How could a company founded barely five years ago, with no experience in corn or rice exports, enjoy such a juicy deal with such high prices?
Curiously enough, as soon as the article in Clarín came out, both María Eugenia and Roberto Vignati (pictured with María Gabriela Chávez) closed their accounts on Twitter.
“Authorities have been duly and officially informed of these operations, and despite this, the situation has continued, and they have even increased their collaboration with these illegitimate businesses,” reads a public statement from the chamber.
After the article was out, Minister De Vido didn’t take long to speak up, and to deny all the allegations.
“I deny that the company Bioart S.A.… or any Vignati family member has any business relationship with me, or the ministry I run. I have never participated in any meeting with Venezuelan government officials, and the owners of the company already stated.”
Back in 2010, Eduardo Sadous, former ambassador for Argentina in Venezuela, had warned about several acts of corruption linked to trade agreements between both countries. However, in 2013 the Argentinean government decided to prosecute him instead for perjury.