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The luxury real estate portfolio of the looters of Venezuela’s state oil company: 21 homes valued at $52 million

The network that plundered the state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) used a series of shell companies to acquire 19 exclusive properties in the oil-rich South American country, along with iconic luxury units in Miami

Petróleo Venezuela
Rafael Ramírez, the former Venezuelan minister of oil, at the PDVSA headquarters in Caracas, in May of 2013JUAN BARRETO /AFP /Getty Images

Luxury homes, penthouses and apartments in dream skyscrapers. The former Chavista leaders – who looted more than $2 billion from Petróleos de Venezuela, SA (PDVSA) – put some of their ill-gotten gains in a real estate portfolio of 21 exclusive properties, which are valued at around $52 million. This is according to a confidential report from the Financial Intelligence Unit of Andorra (UIFAND), to which EL PAÍS has had access.

The criminal network made these investments while carrying out the looting of the state-owned oil company between 2007 and 2012. This was done through the organization’s alleged frontman, Luis Mariano Rodríguez Cabello. And, through several shell companies (none registering activity), the businessman – according to his testimony – purchased 19 luxury homes in Venezuela between 2008 and 2014. These properties were priced between $304,000 and $5.5 million.

Rodríguez Cabello used his 11 accounts in the Banca Privada d’Andorra (BPA) – where he moved over $1.1 billion between 2007 and 2015 – to camouflage the trail of money. This is according to the confidential document which was drafted by UIFAND in November of 2022. A chunk of this cash ended up in real estate.

The Campo Norte building in Caracas was the criminal network’s favorite project. Through an intricate corporate structure, the group acquired at least six units in this complex between 2008 and 2012. The most expensive apartment cost $5.5 million dollars and was purchased through the shell company Inversiones y Asesorías Aditus CA.

In 2011, the alleged frontman also turned to this firm to acquire $7 million worth of real estate, consisting of two apartments and several parking spaces in the same residential complex. This is according to what Rodríguez Cabello communicated to the BPA. He also ordered three cash transfers from his financial institution – a total of $5 million – between 2008 and 2012, to acquire three other apartments in the Campo Norte building in Caracas. One of them was acquired through a transfer of $1.5 million via an account in Switzerland.

Rodríguez Cabello informed the bank that a transfer of $3.3 million – ordered in September of 2008 to a Wells Fargo account in the United States – was part of the acquisition of offices in Venezuela for the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). This organization – which is linked to the World Bank – has a mandate to fight against poverty. EL PAÍS has tried – without success – to obtain the IBRD’s version of events.

In 2007 – when the looting of the Venezuelan state-owned energy company began – the plot also allegedly purchased four offices for a total of $2.5 million on the eighth floor of the Torre Edicampo building in Caracas. The operation was arranged through a transfer to the company Interquimica Ltd., at the Safra National Bank in New York.

Rodríguez Cabello told this bank that he purchased an apartment in the Villa Lucía building in Caracas in January of 2008 for $629,000. In the purchase and sale contract, a Venezuelan of Spanish origin – Estíbaliz Basoa – appeared alongside him. And, in May of 2009, through the company Inversiones Powerball 550 CA – represented by the frontman – he acquired a $750,000 penthouse in another residential complex in the Venezuelan capital.

The tracking of the transactions also shows how the plunderers of the public company bought a $600,000 apartment in the Torre Mar Residences building in Caracas in June of 2009. And, in September of 2012 – through the company Inversiones y Asesorías Belloto – they snapped up another property worth $2.2 million, in the Peña Blanca complex in the capital.

Rodríguez Cabello not only used his financial network in Andorra – a country that, until 2017, was shielded by banking secrecy laws – to acquire luxurious properties. He also resorted to his secretive financial structure to deposit funds from the sale of real estate. For instance, he received $1.7 million in December of 2008 for the sale of an office in the JWM Tower in Chacao, a wealthy district in Caracas. And, three months later, he received $1.2 million from a Deutsche Bank account in the Netherlands for the sale of another office in the same administrative complex.

Buying properties for third parties was another one of his practices. Rodríguez Cabello allegedly acquired a home for a woman in August of 2009. “I am attaching the order for a transfer of $500,000 for the purchase of an apartment with a parking space for Mrs. Silvia F. in Argentina,” the frontman explained to a BPA employee in an email.

EL PAÍS has revealed that Cabello also used this ruse in 2010, to gift a $950,000 apartment in the Parque Residencial Campo de Oro building in Caracas to Claudia Paola Suárez Fernández – the model who represented Venezuela at the Miss World 2007 pageant.

The next investment made by the PDVSA plunderers leads to the One Thousand Museum skyscraper in Miami. It’s an architectural prodigy that stands 699-feet high. Designed by the Iranian architect Zaha Hadid, it houses a helipad, glass elevators and a state-of-the-art aquatic center. Enjoying one of its 100 units costs up to $20 million.

Former political bigwigs tied to the government of Hugo Chávez (1999-2013) and Nicolás Maduro (2013-present) acquired two properties in this Miami skyscraper for more than $21 million in total. The project also attracted the attention of celebrities such as David Beckham.

Through 10% under-the-table commissions from Chinese companies – firms that later received contracts from PDVSA – the network amassed a succulent fortune, which was stashed in over thirty shell companies located in tax havens such as Switzerland, Belize or Andorra.

The looters – among whom were leaders from the first wave of Chavismo, such as Nervis Villalobos and Javier Alvarado, both former vice-minister of energy – camouflaged their million-dollar commissions under the cover of advisory and consulting jobs. According to financial investigators, these jobs never existed.

Since 2015, an Andorran court has been unraveling this nefarious scheme. In 2018, a judge from the small principality – which is home to less than 80,000 people – prosecuted businessman Diego Salazar, the cousin of Venezuela’s former oil minister Rafael Ramírez. He was charged for money laundering in a banking establishment.

Along with him, PDVSA executive Francisco Jiménez Villarroel has also been indicted in Andorra, where the network deposited over $2 billion between 2007 and 2012. Others who have been indicted include the company’s former lawyer, Luis Carlos de León Pérez; Venezuelan insurance magnate, Omar Farías; Salazar’s frontman, Luis Mariano Rodríguez Cabello, as well as Salazar’s attorney, José Luis Zabala.

In 2018, the Andorran justice system also prosecuted a dozen former directors of the Banca Privada d’Andorra (BPA), the financial institution chosen by the corrupt network to hide its loot. The BPA was raided in March of 2015, for allegedly engaging in money-laundering activities.

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