Sun, May 12, 2019 - Page 7 News List

How a Chinese venture in Venezuela made millions while locals grew hungry

Caracas and Beijing agreed to hundreds of projects to kickstart growth in Venezuela, but after billions in investments, little has materialized

By Angus Berwick  /  Reuters, TUCUPITA, Venezuela

Inverdt offered “professional” and “technical” services to many Chinese companies, Gimenez wrote in the e-mail, adding that “only a handful of those companies were chosen to carry out works.”

One of Salazar’s intermediaries, the indictment said, was Francisco Jimenez, a career engineer who was PDVSA’s envoy in Beijing and who the Andorrans indicted along with Salazar.

Salazar first contacted him during a trip to China in 2010, Jimenez testified to Andorran investigators.

Jimenez in March 2010 signed a “strategic alliance” with Salazar to promote Inverdt in China. Under the terms of their contract, Salazar agreed to pay Jimenez US$7.38 million in a BPA account that Inverdt helped open. Bank records in the case files show that Jimenez later received another US$7 million.

Jimenez, who now lives in Panama, did not respond to calls or text messages. Salvador Capdevila, his lawyer in Andorra, declined to comment.

Another official who prosecutors said helped Salazar was then-Venezuelan ambassador to China Rocio Maneiro, who is now the Venezuelan ambassador to Britain.

Maneiro was not charged in the Andorran indictment. Numerous court documents, including a filing by prosecutors in relation to her testimony, refer to her as “under investigation” for payments that they said she received from Salazar and for her alleged role in helping him contact Chinese companies.

In 2010, according to bank records contained in the court documents, Salazar made a transfer of US$30,000 to a Chinese account in her name, citing “services provided by Mrs Maneiro.”

Salazar later made deposits totaling US$13 million into a BPA account owned by a Panama-based company that Maneiro, in a disclosure document linked to the account, said belonged to her.

An internal report from BPA’s anti-money laundering committee also listed Maneiro as its owner.

Maneiro, through a lawyer and in a text message, denied helping Salazar and receiving payments from him.

“Those are assertions with no basis,” she wrote in the message.

She told an Andorran judge that the signature on the form about the Panamanian company is forged. The court has ordered an analysis of the signature.

HARVESTING CONTRACTS

By early 2010, Salazar’s outreach bore fruit.

Engineering firm Sinohydro in March 2010 signed a US$316 million contract with PDVSA to build a power plant near the city of Maracay.

Sinohydro in the contract agreed to pay Salazar a 10 percent fee for helping it “gain a favorable and positive position to pursue the contract.”

Bank records in the case files show that the company paid US$49 million into Salazar’s BPA account and another US$72 million after Sinohydro secured additional power plant contracts from PDVSA.

Sinohydro eventually built four plants, but none met full contract specifications, engineers said.

For example, the plant near Maracay was meant to generate as much as 382 megawatts, the contract showed, but instead, the plant produces no more than 140 megawatts, according to Jose Aguilar, a former director at Venezuelan state-owned power company CVG Electrificacion del Caroni.

Salazar’s company was soon earning more than US$100 million a year, testimony by him and several aides said.

“He had a briefcase full of contracts,” Luis Mariano Rodriguez — a Salazar deputy also charged in the indictment — told Andorran investigators.

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