Good old Setty tweeted the other day about Doing Business in Venezuela. According to its mission, Doing Business is a "project [that] provides objective measures of business regulations and their enforcement across 189 economies and selected cities at the subnational and regional level." Doing Business ranks Venezuela in 181 place, out of 189 economies measured. That is, according to Doing Business there's only 8 other economies in the world where, overall, doing business is worse in every measurable aspect than in Venezuela. Well, not quite Doing Business, for I happen to think that your neat tables and explanations are totally inaccurate, and not supported by evidence. "How can you support your argument?" I hear you say. Here's the proof: meet Alex Saab, a Colombian citizen whose company [Fondo Global de Construcción (FGC or FGDC)] won over $685 million (that'll be USD throughout) in just four days.
What's that chart that you have there about 144 days needed to start a business in Venezuela? Complete and absolute nonsense! You see Alex Saab (Alex Nain Saab Moran, Colombian ID 72.180.017), or someone in his stead, registered FGC in Bogotá (Colombia) on 24 November 2011. Four (4) days later, 28 November 2011 that is, Alex Saab was signing on behalf of FGC a binational agreement, in the presence of Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos, Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez, Colombia's and Venezuela's Foreign Secretaries and Cabinet Members. You doubt my word? Check the video below:
All the big wigs from Colombia and Venezuela were there you see, clapping and smiling away, happily endorsing Alex Saab and his 4-day old company, which that day got either contracts or MoUs valued in excess of $685 million. Saab, who started off in his father's textile business in Barranquilla and had no track record in the infrastructure and construction sector prior to appearing in Venezuela, has been chosen to build thousands of prefabricated housing units, housing units, gymnasiums, baseball stadiums, shopping malls, factories and urbanizations around Venezuela (do scroll down):
Doing business in Venezuela is a fantastic proposition, so much so that well connected thugs without track record can get hundreds of millions of dollars worth of public contracts without bidding, oversight, or accountability of any sort. Its f*&^% phenomenal, ask Derwick Associates if you don't believe me. Forget Texas, Africa or Kazakstan: Venezuela is where the real action is!
Just to reconfirm the point, in less than two years, a totally unknown impresario from Colombia, flaunting all relevant regulations and legislation, has gone from scratch to multimillionaire status, thanks to doing business with the Venezuelan regime, a fountain of millions that springs eternal. How can that put the country in 181 out of 189 countries surveyed? Saab now uses a fleet of N-plate private jets (N259FG, N72LJ, N604DS), has an international network of companies spanning the globe, and even claims to have a bank in Dominica island, creatively called -depending on circumstances- ASA (is it for Alex SAab?) Bank & Trust, or FGC Bank & Trust:
The business card above may have been the first one printed by Mr Saab (domain does not even exist, the phone number is valid though and can be used to contact him). These days Mr Saab uses another email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Do run a Google search for 42 Kennedy Avenue, Roseau, Dominica, which is a financial centre sitting opposite Dominica's government building. But more interesting, do run a search in Dominica's register of corporations, and try and find one single entry about ASA Bank & Trust or indeed FGC Bank & Trust.
Saab seems to be lying about his bank, as much as he is doing about his connections to a number of companies registered in Peru and Ecuador which, taking advantage of a currency exchange payment mechanism called SUCRE, are believed to have been used to steal more than $130 million in ficticious export transactions according to Ecuador's General Prosecutor. The investigation in Ecuador has not gone unnoticed in Venezuela. In fact, Mr Chiriboga (Ecuador's General Prosecutor) met with his counterpart in Venezuela (Luisa Ortega Diaz), who was made aware of advancing investigations related to Saab and his companies. But that has not prevented him from getting hundreds of millions and carrying on with his "business" in Venezuela, despite the fact that his company -FGC- has an estimated contracting capacity of just over $1.8 million according to National Register of Contractors.
Rank and file chavistas don't seem to be happy with Mr Saab's performance, who goes about his business undisturbed as far as Venezuela is concerned. In his native Colombia things aren't as rosy. A radio station called "La W" has been investigating Saab and his operation, it interviewed Mr Chiriboga, who refused to be drawn into naming names. It also interviewed me yesterday, about Saab's extremely successful operations in Venezuela, which may have come about thanks to his friendship with infamous, narcoterrorists-apologist extraordinaire and former Senator, Piedad Cordoba. Cordoba, whose nom de guerre is Teodora de Bolivar according to files found in slained FARC's-commander Raul Reyes laptops, allegedly introduced Saab to her Venezuelan contacts and procured relevant bona fides, hence his presence signing contracts as representative of a 4-day old company at the highest level. Colombian sources argue that the Santos government did not have prior knowledge that Saab would be signing bilateral agreements. This argument proves one of two things: either the government of Santos is completely incompetent, to the point of being invited to sign multimillion dollar accords without knowing in advance who will sign for what, or it knew in advance who Mr Saab and his associates were and still decided to participate in the charade with Hugo Chavez.
In my regular collaboration for Semana magazine with colleague Fanny Kertzman, former head of Colombia's equivalent to the Inland Revenue, we exposed Saab. The article was subsequently removed, due to pressure from Saab's lawyer in Colombia (Abelardo de la Espriella). At the core of this dispute is the claim that Saab got his deals in Venezuela thanks to Cordoba. It is worth asking: if that's not the case, which bidding processes won Saab in four days? Where's the evidence of official calls for public bids made by the Venezuelan government, which ended up with Saab's company as winner? What current Venezuelan legislation allows for a 4-day old company to be granted hundreds of millions of dollars worth of contracts? What other companies competed in those bids? What's the name of the Venezuelan officials that vetted Saab and his company?
Saab's Venezuelan lawyer, Amir Nassar Tayupe, said in an email to me that Saab has never denied his "long time" friendship with Cordoba. Saab and Cordoba are both represented by the same Colombian lawyer (de la Espriella). There's abundant evidence that the Venezuelan regime has funded Cordoba's activities in Colombia (through Monomeros, a fully owned subsidiary of PEQUIVEN, in turn owned by PDVSA) and in the US (lobbying done by the Venezuela funded Venezuela Information Office). Saab does not deny involvement with FGC in Venezuela or Colombia, despite absence of registry records linking him directly to said entities. Similarly, there are no records of Saab in records pertaining to equally named companies in Ecuador and Peru, and he is using that argument to counter allegations of any involvement in the multimillion SUCRE scam. Other FGCs incorporated in Spain have as ultimate controlling party FGDC Malta Holdings Ltd. in Malta, incorporated in turn 23 October 2012, by Alvaro Enrique Pulido Vargas (Colombian passport PE 069914, registered address CL 84 No. 9 - 35, Apto 301, Edificio Torre Palma, Bogota. DC, El Retiro).
Sources familiar with Saab, and his Fondo Global scam, argue the structure is nothing but a front to carry on funding Cordoba's political activities in Colombia, through illegal granting of contracts worth hundreds of millions that are then syphoned and moved around a vast network of shells and proxies in Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Spain, Malta and the Caribbean. Cordoba -whose source of income is unknown- certainly does not seem to be short of cash these days, as she organizes birthday celebrations for relatives featuring numerous bands with hundreds of guests in attendance. Where does the money come from? Is it from Maduro or from her FARC mates?
With regards to Saab, it is more than evident that Venezuela is a paradise for "businessmen" of certain type, unlike what Doing Business' research may conclude.