Businessman With Ties to Maduro Said to Bankroll Venezuelan Opposition
Alejandro Betancourt allegedly told Rudolph Giuliani, Trump's lawyer, that he helped "finance Guaidó's efforts secretly."
Spanish – Alejandro Betancourt, a Venezuelan bolichico, who is allegedly involved in major corruption and embezzlement scandals, is being presented as one of those in charge of “financing the opposition in Venezuela.”
A report published by Reuters revealed that Rudolph Giuliani, the personal lawyer of U.S. President Donald Trump, had met the father of interim President Juan Guaidó, thanks to his client, Venezuelan tycoon Alejandro Betancourt.
— Reuters (@Reuters) January 22, 2020
According to Reuters, the meeting took place last August on a private estate in Spain. The aim was to seek judicial “clemency” in the United States for the bolichico, who is trying to escape from corruption trials in Venezuela by attempting to demonstrate his “close links” with opposition representatives.
According to the news agency’s sources, Betancourt allegedly told Giuliani that he helped “finance Guaidó’s efforts secretly” to become the leader in Venezuela.
The Venezuelan businessman under investigation in the United States hoped that this action would allow Giuliani, who is also his lawyer, to convince the U.S. Justice Department to “abandon the investigation” against him.
According to Reuters, the meeting apparently took place at Betancourt’s estate, where both Giuliani and the father of Venezuela’s interim president, Juan Guaidó, reportedly met.
Trump’s lawyer then allegedly tried to convince U.S. prosecutors that Betancourt had assisted the Venezuelan opposition and was, therefore, “doing a good job.”
Lev Parnas, a former associate of Giuliani, is one of those who would have confirmed the meeting.
A month later, at a meeting in Washington, Giuliani urged Justice Department prosecutors to act calmly regarding Betancourt, according to one person with direct knowledge of the meeting and Lev Parnas, both of whom said Giuliani told prosecutors that Betancourt had assisted Guaidó’s political efforts and was, therefore, doing an excellent job for the United States.
This is the first time that Parnas details his account of Betancourt, Giuliani, and Venezuela.
“Lev Parnas has no right to talk about that meeting,” Giuliani told Reuters in a brief telephone interview. “It was a confidential meeting if it happened … Lev Parnas’ credibility is not worth anything,” he added.
Reuters could not determine whether Betancourt provided funding to the U.S.-backed opposition or whether he was simply claiming to have done so. Meanwhile, Guaidó and the Popular Will party denied receiving any funds from the Venezuelan “bolichico.”
“I don’t know Mr. Betancourt; there’s no connection,” Guaidó told Reuters. “Well, that is s not possible.”
Wilmer Guaidó, the father of the interim president, denied having met Betancourt in Spain.
“I just support my son as the whole family does against that criminal dictatorship, but I haven’t met anyone,” he said.
Giuliani’s meeting with Betancourt at the property in Spain, and his efforts to lobby the Justice Department on behalf of the businessman, were previously reported by the Washington Post. However, Reuters is the first to report that Betancourt told Giuliani that he provided financial support to the Venezuelan opposition and that Giuliani promoted this supposed assistance to U.S. prosecutors to obtain leniency on behalf of his client.
In November 2019, it was revealed that the “bolichico” Alejandro Betancourt, investigated by the State Department for alleged money laundering cases in Venezuela, had hired the most expensive law firms in the United States for his defense; among them was Rudolph W. Giuliani, personal attorney to President Donald Trump. Giuliani, according to The Washington Post, reportedly pressured the Justice Department in favor of Betancourt.
The expression “bolichicos” was created in 2010 by Venezuelan writer and journalist Juan Carlos Zapata to refer to “the new gang of rich people in Chavista days.” That is, young entrepreneurs with wealthy families in Caracas who have multiplied their fortunes by primarily being contractors for the regime of Hugo Chávez, and then Nicolás Maduro.
U.S. concerns about illicit funding
The report published by Reuters also refers to Elliott Abrams, U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela, who is said to have expressed concern about the possible “lack of transparency in the financing of the Venezuelan opposition.”
“We care about who all these people are and how they made their money. And that’s something we have raised with the opposition,” said Abrams, who also preferred not to mention “individual names.”
He added that Giuliani had not been authorized to play any role in U.S. policy in Venezuela.
The “bolichico” Betancourt
Venezuelan businessmen, better known as “bolichicos,” are reportedly being investigated in the United States in a case of money laundering of approximately 1.2 billion USD that also involves Chavismo.
The criminal lawsuit against Betancourt alleges that senior officials of Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA, elite business leaders and bankers conspired to steal money from the company and then launder it through Miami real estate purchases and other investment schemes. The Venezuelan apparently tried to use his fortune to push for the erasure of his name in these investigations.
Betancourt co-founded a company that received 1.8 billion USD in government contracts to build power plants under the Hugo Chávez government, leading to accusations of the alleged fraud.
The company, Derwick Associates, has denied paying bribes to win its contracts and said the contracts reflect the high cost of doing business in the socialist country.
So far, nine defendants have been charged in Miami, two of whom pleaded guilty and one of whom is awaiting trial. However, according to the U.S. newspaper, there are a dozen businessmen involved, allegedly including Venezuela’s Alejandro Betancourt.
The newspaper El Confidencial has indicated that Betancourt is related to the Venezuelan electricity crisis since he is a director of Derwick Associates Corp, which has received contracts worth millions during the regimes of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro for the construction of thermoelectric plants, some of which have not yet been completed.
El Confidencial explains that the businessman allegedly “paid bribes to get the deal which eventually turned out to be a big scam for the Venezuelan state.” The newspaper points out that “he (Betancourt) only sold scrap metal or reconstructed equipment at a high premium.”
Although Betancourt is not explicitly named in the case being investigated in Miami, several sources have asserted to the Nuevo Herald that he is “Conspirador 2,” one of the pseudonyms in the criminal complaint among the dozen unidentified conspirators and Venezuelan officials.
The U.S. newspaper reports that “federal court records say that Conspirador 2″ was among the circle of bolibourgeois and government officials who received hundreds of millions of dollars in late 2014 from PDVSA as payment for a loan they made to the state oil company.” It further notes that a criminal affidavit alleges that the tycoon “used a shell company to lend 42 million USD in bolivars and was then repaid in euros at the government’s favorable exchange rate,” a transaction that would have increased by the equivalent of 600 million USD.
According to the Miami Herald, the 600 million USD profit was allegedly divided among a group of wealthy Venezuelan businessmen, the three stepchildren of Nicolás Maduro, and the PDVSA, according to an email obtained by National Security Investigations agents and sources familiar with the criminal case.
According to a report on the energy sector written by the NGO Transparencia Venezuela, Derwick received 11 construction contracts worth USD 2.9 billion, which would have been overvalued by an average of 162%.
The company was registered in Panama in 2003 and in Barbados in 2009 but had never before built a plant like the one required by the state electricity company Corpoelec.
“There was at least 800 million USD in over-billing,” Jose Aguilar, who is an engineer in charge of researching Derwick for the Wall Street Journal, told El Nuevo Herald. He explained that the company hired low-cost outsourced personnel to do much of its work.