As the US justice authorities investigate corruption among Venezuela’s former leaders, there is evidence that embezzled state funds flowed into Swiss bank accounts.
The investigative newsletter Gotham City*, which focuses on white-collar crime, has traced how the so-called “Bolivarian bourgeoisie” – powerful Venezuelans with links to the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez – diverted more than $1 billion (CHF995.8) of public money to finance their opulent lifestyles in the United States.
For example, Alejandro Andrade, the former Chavez bodyguard appointed finance minister in 2007, pleaded guilty to corruption on November 19. Court documents examined by Gotham City show how he and his peers trusted Swiss banks to hide money.
Andrade alone had 17 accounts with nine Swiss banks, including HSBC, Julius Bär, Credit Suisse, Compagnie Bancaire Helvétique in Geneva and PKB in Lugano, Gotham City journalists found. The former Venezuelan minister, who owned a racehorse ranch in Florida, was sentenced to ten years in prison.
With the admission of guilt, all of the former minister’s accounts were frozen and their contents transferred to the American courts. The confiscated amounts were not disclosed, but the former finance minister confessed to accepting tens of millions of dollars in bribes. In return, he helped embezzle more than a billion dollars of public money by a group of businessmen.
Among them was Venezuelan media magnate Raul Gorrin, who also favoured Swiss bank accounts. The owner of the Venezuelan media group Globovision paid the minister bribes directly from his personal account at HSBC Private Banking (Suisse) SA in Geneva. Gorrin was indicted by the US judiciary on November 20.
34 Swiss watches
The charges against Gorrin and Andrade show that Gorrin used his HSBC account to pay for the veterinary care of Andrade’s race horses as well as for three private jets and a yacht.
The former minister of Hugo Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” was also a big fan of Swiss luxury watches. He owned 34 of them, including eight by Hublot, five by Franck Muller and four from Audemars Piguet.
Gorrin allegedly continued this pattern of corruption after Andrade’s departure. He also bribed Andrade’s replacement, Claudia Diaz – who was Chavez’s former nurse.
A US investigation has been opened against Diaz, and a request for extradition has been made to Spain, where she lives with her husband, a former bodyguard of the late president.
Maduro after Chavez
The investigations of the US Department of Justice are no longer limited to Chavez’s hires, but also to Venezuela’s current head of state, Nicolas Maduro.
Gorrin met US Vice President Mike Pence at the end of 2017. According to the Miami Herald, the businessman tried to negotiate the disempowerment of Maduro in return for a dismissal of the American lawsuits against him and the “Bolivarian bourgeoise”. It now appears that these efforts have not been as successful as expected.
* Founded by investigative journalists Marie Maurisse and François Pilet, Gotham Cityexternal link is an investigative newsletter specialising in white-collar crime.
Every week, it reports to its subscribers on cases of fraud, corruption and money laundering related to the Swiss financial centre, based on court documents with public access.
Gotham City regularly offers free access to its articles through swissinfo.ch.end of infobox
Translated from German by Susan Misicka