Pandora Papers: the offshore operations and properties in Miami of an Argentine intermediary suspected of corruption with Venezuela

Néstor Kirchner and Hugo Chávez signed the bilateral trust under suspicion in 2004 (Télam)

Lobbyists suspected of collecting bribes from Argentine companies that sold agricultural machinery to the Venezuelan government set up a framework offshore between Panama and the British Virgin Islands (BVI), which started to work just ten days after Presidents Néstor Kirchner and Hugo Chávez signed an agreement between the two nations.

Investigated by the Argentine Justice for having allegedly charged a 15% commission on these commercial transactions, Argentine businessman Roberto Wellisch and Venezuelan Francisco Carrasquero resorted to these firms in tax havens to manage millionaire funds and acquire real estate in the United States, according to the documents that make up the Pandora Papers, the overall filtration of International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ, in English) that integrates Infobae together with La Nación and elDiarioAR.

The first step occurred on April 16, 2004, when Palmat Intertrade TO was registered in Panama with just USD 10,000. In other words, just ten days after Kirchner and Chávez signed the “Comprehensive Cooperation Agreement between Argentina and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela”, with which the bilateral trust would take shape. According to the documents of Pandora Papers, the shares went from bearer to registered in favor of Wellisch and the Venezuelan Yone Boccardo in 2008.

Palmat Intertrade became, in fact, the sister of a firm with a very similar name, Palmat International SA, which had been created in 1989 and was the first intermediary firm between Argentine companies and the Venezuelan authorities.

Thus, Wellisch and Carrasquero, first through Palmat Internacional and, since 2007 with Palmat Intertrade, acted as a link in those commercial transactions that soon came under suspicion. For more than a decade, The Argentine Justice investigates the alleged payment of bribes behind the commissions they received. Among other operations, the investigators analyzed as suspicious the contracts made by the Fund for Socialist Agrarian Development (Fondas) and the Venezuelan state company Pedro Camejo, both dependent on the Ministry of Agriculture of that country that was managed by the Chavista leader Elías Jaua.

To set up and manage your offshore operations, both Palmat and Madero Trading -another intermediary for trade with Venezuela- resorted to the Alemán, Cordero y Galindo (Alcogal) firm. It is a Panamanian law firm specialized in tax havens that was also used by hundreds of clients who evaded or laundered assets, as revealed Pandora Papers.

However, in the case of Palmat, it was the Alcogal executives themselves who set off the alarms when they learned that both the firm, Wellisch and Carrasquero had come under the scrutiny of the Argentine Justice.

It was one of the founders of the study, Jaime Alemán, who sent an internal note to his team in April 2010, copying a newspaper article that detailed the accusations that Palmat and Alcogal faced in Argentina for alleged bribery. “Based on what the article says, we proceeded to resign as agents of this company and we reiterate that we had nothing to do with Palmat’s business and affairs. And it is not true that they are investigating us for the fraudulent scheme,” he said.

But Alcogal took further action. Society is involved in fraudulent business”, detailed one of the executives of the Panamanian law firm Raúl Zúñiga, who dumped the names questioned in a spreadsheet called “Alert List”. It included Palmat International, Palmat Intertrade and Madero Trading, as well as Wellisch, and the Venezuelans Carrasquero, Domingo Alvarez Boccardo, Yone Boccardo, Marc David Reich and the American millionaire Marc Rich, founder of Glencore.

At that time, the former Argentine ambassador in Venezuela, Edward Sadous, starred in the journalistic coverage in our country, when it transpired that in 2005 he had sent a diplomatic cable to Buenos Aires for which he was punished. In that confidential shipment, he detailed the “serious problems” that affected “Argentine interests” in the bilateral business handled through the trust, and included a flamboyant and unusual word in a diplomatic communication: “Corruption”.

  The former Argentine ambassador to Venezuela, Eduardo Sadous, who revealed the alleged payment of commissions in the bilateral trust (NA)
The former Argentine ambassador to Venezuela, Eduardo Sadous, who revealed the alleged payment of commissions in the bilateral trust (NA)

From Caracas to Miami

Pandora Papers now exposes that Wellisch and Yone Boccardo opened other societies offshore, with the initial intermediation of Alcogal, which they later used to acquire properties in Miami. Thus, for example, both recorded Wilcox Intertrade Inc, in the British Virgin Islands in January 2008 and continued to be its directors until at least 2018, according to filing documents. Pandora Papers analyzed by Infobae.

They used it to control, since 2007, two properties in the Hamptons West condominium in Aventura, Miami, which they bought with the support of a US $ 1 million mortgage in the Regions Bank of the United States, issued in the name of Wilcox, Palmat and himself. Wellisch. Wilcox Intertrade and Palmat requested a mortgage of one million dollars from Regions Bank of the United States, which was canceled in June 2018, according to public records consulted by Infobae.

The apartments are located in a luxurious five-star building which has a gourmet restaurant, theater, tennis courts, spa and two swimming pools. There are two units – number 2014 and 2115 – of 170 m2 each whose fiscal valuation amounts to USD 800.000. In the same building, Wellisch acquired another apartment of 140 square meters, Unit 2111, whose fiscal value is USD 325.000, in January 2009.

The Hamptons West condominium, in Miami, where Wellisch owns three units, in his name and that of a firm from the Virgin Islands
The Hamptons West condominium, in Miami, where Wellisch owns three units, in his name and that of a firm from the Virgin Islands

Palmat acquired a third property in Florida. In August 2008, it came to control Unit 101 of the office and commercial condominium Square One Business Center, a property that functions as a shopping center in Doral, an area of ​​residence for many Venezuelan immigrants in Miami. The 320 m2 property has a tax valuation of USD 620,000, according to information in Miami public records.

After Alcogal resigned, Wellisch and the other intermediaries hired the studio years later Trident Trust, another law firm specializing in offshore operations. Yone Boccardo informed the authorities of the study in September 2018 that the purpose of the company was to protect real estate investments for approximately USD 2 million in the United States. In addition, he added that Wilcox had a bank account at BB&T Bank, branch in Doral, Florida. The origin of the consigned funds were “salaries and savings”, according to what they declared.

In 2000, Wellisch had acquired, also through Alcogal, the company Mistal Finance Limited, in turn register in the British Virgin Islands. Thus arises from a Power in his favor and another in favor of the Venezuelan Yone Boccardo, who appear in the records of Pandora Papers.

The Argentine ICIJ team tried to consult Wellisch about his offshore operations through his lawyer and via email, but he did not respond to the messages. Extremely low-profile, with offices in Buenos Aires, Venezuela, Miami and Panama, this millionaire always sought to avoid journalistic requisitions.

One of the documents confirming that Wellisch and Boccardo were directors of Wilcox until at least 2018
One of the documents confirming that Wellisch and Boccardo were directors of Wilcox until at least 2018

Years ago, he offered his version of the commissions he received, in a statement he sent to the Kirchnerist newspaper Page 12. “I am a man of values ​​and ethical conduct. My company has thirty years dedicated to commercial intermediation. Palmat has knowledge and infrastructure that add value to the operations of our clients and allies. We have subsidiaries and our own offices in several cities around the world”, he said, without specifying those cities. “Palmat was selected individually by thirty-nine agricultural machinery manufacturing companies in Argentina. The professional relationship was stipulated in contracts, subscribed directly and without intermediation. They were absolutely legal, signed and registered in Buenos Aires in a voluntary and transparent manner. I reaffirm, and it is fully documented, that we carried out a professional job, that the professional relationship was framed in legal contracts and was billed transparently and legally. The contract was fulfilled with hard work and without claim from any of the parties”.

the other intermediary

Madero Trading, another of the companies investigated for having acted as an intermediary in trade with Venezuela, also appears in the almost 12 million documents of Pandora Papers. The records show that it was also incorporated by Alcogal in Panama, in March 2009, and in the British Virgin Islands, and its owner was the Argentine Jose Ernest Rodriguez.

This firm, along with Palmat, had the “exclusivity” to represent Argentine companies that wanted to sell agricultural machinery to Venezuela.

Among the Alcogal documents that appear on Madero Trading, there is one called “Possible companies related to Palmat” and it took the information from the Panamanian public registry and then dumped it in that file.

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Reference-www.infobae.com

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