The network that looted Venezuela’s PDVSA paid $19 million to the company’s lawyer

The former attorney for the state-owned energy corporation handled $25 million through a web in Panama, Switzerland and Andorra. He and his wife also bought luxury homes in Madrid and Caracas

Main headquarters of the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum and PDVSA in Caracas, Venezuela.
Main headquarters of the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum and PDVSA in Caracas, Venezuela.Miguel Gutiérrez (EFE)

Verbal contracts, opaque transactions made through companies, labyrinthine schemes to hide the money trail and a loot transformed into exclusive homes. Luis Carlos de León Pérez, a former lawyer for Petróleos de Venezuela S. A. (PDVSA) and financial director of the state electricity company Electricidad de Caracas, collected $19 million from the network under investigation for plundering $2 billion from the Venezuelan public energy company, according to a report from the Financial Intelligence Unit of Andorra (Uifand) to which EL PAÍS has had access. The report is part of the investigation being conducted by a court in the European microstate into the looting of the Venezuela oil company.

The former lawyer received part of his fortune through an intricate corporate network with tentacles in Panama, Switzerland and Andorra, to which his wife, Andreina Gámez Rodríguez, also belonged. The couple channeled $25 million and hatched a plan to acquire a large luxury property in Caracas, as well as four more upscale properties in Madrid, Spain. Their real estate investments totaled $9 million.

Most of the transfers that fed the couple’s accounts — some of them justified under the cover of alleged “verbal contracts”— were ordered through shell corporations with no business activity. Behind this scheme was Nervis Villalobos, the former vice-minister of energy during the Hugo Chávez administration, serving in that position between 2004 and 2006. Another major source of funds came to PDVSA’s ex-lawyer through the alleged frontman of the network, the Caracas-born Luis Mariano Rodriguez Cabello, who handled nearly $1.5 million through a set of 11 opaque bank accounts in Andorra, according to the documents.

Formed by around 30 former officials of the powerful state-owned company and former Chavista leaders, the network that looted PDVSA operated between 2007 and 2012. It included prominent men of former president Chávez (1999-2013) such as the former vice-ministers of energy Nervis Villalobos and Javier Alvarado. The group devised a scheme to conceal the illegal commissions. Some members allegedly received 10% from businessmen, especially Chinese ones, who secured public contracts from the energy company and its subsidiaries. To hide the flow of funds, the network moved its loot through an opaque web of accounts at Banca Privada d’Andorra (BPA), 4,600 miles (7,400 kilometers) from Caracas. The offshore network circulated through some 30 companies in Switzerland and Belize.

De León, Villalobos and Rodríguez Cabello are part of a group of 30 people prosecuted in 2018 by an Andorra court. They are accused of being part of a network that charged commissions to businesspeople, mainly Chinese entrepreneurs, in exchange for contracts from the Venezuelan public energy company.

In August 2008, former Chavista deputy minister Villalobos turned to his Panamanian instrumental company Lomond Overseas S. A. to sign a contract with one of the opaque companies of the former lawyer of the state firm, Ribston Investments. The alleged ruse served to justify a transfer of $5.5 million under the excuse of alleged “assistance” services.

Through another Panamanian company without any business activity, Megana International Ltd, Villalobos also settled an alleged debt of $8 million with the firm owned by the former PDVSA lawyer. Andorran investigators believe that both transactions were a transfer of funds that did not correspond to any real activity, since neither Villalobos nor De León provided documents to back their operations.

To hide the money, De León and his wife became clients of BPA, the Andorra-based financial entity in which the PDVSA looters hid $2 billion between 2007 and 2015.

The lawyer had two accounts at BPA through shell corporations, and he was the owner of a third encrypted account between 2008 and 2013. De León made contact with the bank in 2008, introducing himself as a 48-year-old lawyer. He said that he chose Andorra — which, until 2017, remained shielded by banking secrecy — for its opacity and security. And he indicated that he was planning to transfer funds quarterly to the BPA, where he expected to deposit between $2.5 and $5 million, according to the Know Your Customer form, which is mandatory at financial institutions to verify the origin of funds.

A real estate emporium in Spain

De León’s wife, Andreina Gámez Rodríguez, a 47-year-old Venezuelan, controlled two accounts at BPA opened to the name of shell corporations between 2009 and 2014, and she was the titleholder of a third. When she showed up at the bank, she announced that she needed to transfer $1 million to a company in Madrid to buy a property. Gámez Rodríguez was listed in 2010 as the sole administrator and owner of the Madrid real estate company Sansobino 1977. S. L. In 2019, the last year that this company presented its accounts, it listed accumulated assets of $2.8 million, according to Spanish business registration records available on the website Informa.

Furthermore, according to the Spanish property registry, in 2011 Sansobino 1977 S. L. acquired a spacious duplex home and three parking spaces at 4, Tahona Street in the Spanish capital. Gámez Rodríguez signed a contract in 2010 to acquire the property for $2.5 million.

The obsession with real estate did not end there. In 2009, De León booked, through a Spanish real estate agency, two homes and four parking spaces valued at more than $1 million. And his wife signed a contract that same year to buy a third property in Madrid in a development known as Paseo de la Habana. The package included three parking spaces and cost $665,540.

This newspaper has also had access to a purchase option contract that reveals the intention of the lawyer and his wife to purchase the “Maricarmen” house in December 2012 in the city of Baruta, in the Venezuelan state of Miranda. With a constructed area of 8611 square feet (800 square meters), the property extends over an area of 43,000 sq ft (4,000 m2). The couple agreed to pay $5.2 million. The energy company’s lawyer turned to its financial network in Andorra, which served as a gateway to send funds to other members of the organization. Their accounts transferred $8.4 million to the accounts of Villalobos and former Chavista Vice Minister of Energy Javier Alvarado.

Along with his activities in Andorra, where he was prosecuted in 2018 for money laundering and belonging to a bribery network, De León has many other open fronts with the justice system. A Texas court issued an arrest warrant against him in 2017 and he was arrested in Madrid. And in 2018 he was found guilty of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), according to a document from the Houston prosecutor’s office cited by Infobae. EL PAÍS has tried without success to obtain De León and Gámez Rodríguez’s version of events through their lawyers in Andorra.

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