Pandora Papers: the offshore network of bribery intermediaries between Argentina and Venezuela comes to light
The lobbyists who mediated between Argentine companies and the Venezuelan government for the sale of agricultural machinery they set up a offshore network between Panama and the British Virgin Islands (BVI), which began operating ten days after the presidents Nestor Kirchner and Hugo Chavez they signed the agreement between both nations.
Suspected of acting as bridges in the alleged payment of bribes, Roberto Wellisch and Francisco Carrasquero resorted to those offshore firms to manage millions of dollars and acquire real estate in the United States, as appears from the documents that make up the Pandora Papers, the global leak of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ, in English) that integrates THE NATION beside Infobae Y elDiarioAR.
The first step occurred April 16, 2004, when Palmat Intertrade was registered in Panama. In other words, just ten years after Kirchner and Chávez signed the “Integral Cooperation Agreement between Argentina and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela”, with which the bilateral trust would take shape.
Palmat Intertrade became, in fact, the sister of a firm with a very similar name, Palmat International, 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 these business operations that soon came under suspicion. For more than a decade, The Argentine Justice investigates the alleged payment of bribes behind the commissions they charged.
To set up and manage your offshore operations, both Palmat and Madero Trading, another intermediary for trade with Venezuela, resorted to the study German, Lamb and Galindo (Alcogal), a law firm specialized in tax havens that was also used by hundreds of clients who evaded or laundered assets.
However, in the case of Palmat it was the Alcogal executives themselves who set off the alarms when they noticed that both the firm and Wellisch and Carrasquero had been under the magnifying glass of Justice.
He was one of the founders of the studio, Jaime German, who sent an internal note to his team in April 2010, copying a newspaper article detailing the accusations 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 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 claimed.
But Alcogal took further action. “Society is involved in fraudulent business”, he detailed Raul Zuniga -one of the executives of the study- who dumped the names questioned in a spreadsheet called “Warning list”. included to Palmat International, Palmat Intertrade, Madero Trading, Francisco Carrasquero, Roberto Wellisch, Domingo Alvarez Boccardo, Yone Boccardo, Marc David Reich and Marc Rich.
At that time, the former Argentine ambassador in Venezuela, Edward Sadous, dominated journalistic coverage in Argentina, when it transpired that in 2005 he had sent a diplomatic cable to Buenos Aires for which he was punished. He detailed the “serious problems” that affected “Argentine interests” in bilateral business handled through a trust, and included a flamboyant and unusual word in a diplomatic cable: “Corruption”.
Palmat Intertrade was registered in Panama on April 16, 2004. The first shares were issued in favor of the Argentine-Venezuelan Wellisch and the Venezuelan Yone Boccardo. The records that make up the “Pandora Papers” show that the same partners opened other offshore companies, with the initial support of Alcogal, which they later used to acquire properties in Miami.
Thus, Wellisch and Boccardo registered Wilcox Intertrade, in the British Virgin Islands, in January 2008. They used it to control two properties in the Hamptons West de Aventura condominium, Miami, which they bought with the support of a US$1 million mortgage at Regions Bank of the United States issued in the name of Wilcox but also Palmat and Wellisch.
The apartments are located in a luxurious five-star building that has a gourmet restaurant, theater, tennis courts, spa and two swimming pools. There are two units of 170 m2 each whose tax valuation adds up to about 800,000 dollars, according to official data. The mortgage was paid off in June 2018, according to public records.
Palmat acquired a third property in Florida. In August 2008, he took control the condominium of offices and premises 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 $620,000, according to official information from Miami public records.
After the resignation of Alcogal, meanwhile, Wellisch and the other intermediaries hired the study 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 is to protect real estate investments for approximately 2 million dollars in the United States. In addition, he added that Wilcox had a bank account at BB&T Bank, branch in Doral, Florida. The source of the funds is “salaries and savings”, they declared.
Madero Trading, another of the companies investigated for having acted as an intermediary in trade with Venezuela, also appears in the Pandora Papers records. Documents show that it was also incorporated by Alcogal in Panama, in March 2009, and in the British Virgin Islands.
Among the few documents that appear on Madero Trading, the Alcogal study prepared a document called “Possible companies related to Palmat” and took the information on the Panamanian public registry and then dumped it in that file.
The Argentine ICIJ team tried to consult Wellisch about his offshore operations, but he did not respond to messages. Years ago, he offered his version of the commissions he received in a statement he sent to the official 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”.