Published On: Thu, Jun 30th, 2016

Venezuela and Panama to launch Panama Papers inquiry

Luisa-Ortega1CARACAS - The attorney general of Venezuela has announced an unprecedented joint investigation with their Panamanian counterparts to probe individuals suspected of wrongdoing after their names surfaced in the Panama Papers.

Luisa Ortega Díaz, Venezuela’s attorney general since 2007, shared news of the partnership in a television interview on Sunday.

“I sent a letter to the attorney general of Panama and we created a joint task force of Panamanian and Venezuelan prosecutors – the first of its kind – to investigate these cases,” Venezuela’s top prosecutor told television network Televen.

Ortega hinted that her office’s inquiry had produced a long list of suspects, one of which has already been taken into custody.

The Panama Papers revelations led to the indictment of Venezuelan businessman Josmel Velásquez and his mother on charges of money laundering and participation in a criminal conspiracy. According to the prosecutor’s office, both were taken into custody last April “after searches at a string of Velásquez-Figueroa family properties, where luxury cars, high powered motorcycles, empty Rolex watch cases, precious stones and diamond certificates were seized.” The pair was attempting to leave the country when they were apprehended at a private airport near Caracas.

An investigation by ICIJ’s Venezuelan partners also implicated Velásquez’s brother Adrián. A retired army captain, Adrián Velásquez was former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez's chief bodyguard. His wife Claudia Díaz, who also appears in the documents, was Chávez’s personal nurse and managed a multimillion-dollar development fund as national treasurer.

Leaked documents from Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm at the center of the Panama Papers investigation, showed that Adrián Velásquez and Díaz hired the firm to set up companies in the Seychelles, Switzerland and Panama, ICIJ’s partners reported.

Other documents from the leak have shown that the Chávez government used Mossack Fonseca’s services in 2007 to set up Veniran, a joint petrochemical venture between the state oil companies of Venezuela and Iran. According to internal correspondence uncovered by ICIJ’s Venezuelan partners, Mossack Fonseca executives reportedly opted to incorporate Veniran in the British Virgin Islands instead of Panama in order to avoid UN sanctions imposed on Iran for its nuclear program.

Meanwhile, Argentina’s attorney general has indicted Néstor Grindetti, the mayor of the industrial city of Lánus, for his involvement in an offshore company brought to light by the Panama Papers. Grindetti is a close ally of Argentinian President Mauricio Macri, whose name has also come up in the Mossack Fonseca documents.

Back in April, Grindetti told Argentine newspaper Clarín that “there [wasn’t] any kind of controversial matter,” and that “the company [he had been connected to] has never had any kind of activity, which is why it had not been declared.”

Almost three months after they were first published, the Panama Papers continue to impact the world of offshore secrecy and how it is regulated. New Zealand was the latest country to announce it would introduce tighter restrictions on foreign trusts, after the author of a review commissioned by the government described current transparency requirements as “light-handed.” Prime Minister John Key said most of the report’s recommendations were likely to be adopted.

By Simon Bouvier

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