In the league of "corruption that bankrupts nations" Venezuela is an outlier. The corruption is of such scale that over a quarter of Venezuela's population have decided that exile and asylum seeking are better options. Corruption is, and has been, one of the fundamental policies of chavismo. Trillions of dollars have been lost since Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999. Whereas Chavez formulated the policy, Rafael Ramirez was hand-picked as executor in chief. His reign as concurrent CEO of PDVSA and Minister of Energy turned his decade-long stint into an economic debacle and, without question, the costliest mistake in Venezuela's history.
A myriad of schemes were devised by Ramirez and his associates to ransack PDVSA. For ten years, almost every interaction prior to any valuable transaction between PDVSA and commercial parties was underpinned by corruption. Ramirez made absolutely certain that every such deal would afford him and his associates opportunities for illicit enrichment.
This site has catalogued countless examples. It is however important to rehash Ramirez's "management methodology": PDVSA would seek partners / vendors locally and internationally as part of its multidimensional procurement needs; once parties had been identified / chosen an unofficial visit by a Ramirez associate (could be a Baldo Sanso, a Nervis Villalobos, a Diego Salazar, or a Javier Alvarado) would take place to lay the conditions, i.e. to determine percentage of commissions to be paid before signing and before getting paid.
No multimillion dollar deal would escape the corruption quantum. Ramirez placed his first cousin in everything related to PDVSA's insurance needs, his brother in law in joint ventures and agreements with international energy corporations, while other trusted associates or colleagues (Villalobos, Alvarado, Alvaro Ledo Nass, Carmelo Urdaneta, Eudomario Carruyo, Rafael Reiter, etc.) would see that banking, shipping, trading, and all other aspects related to PDVSA's operations were under control and producing dividends.
The cost to PDVSA is evident for all to see: production has gone from over three million barrels a day (pre Chavez) to about 700,000. Ramirez is the architect of that loss. By fuelling corruption and allowing misappropriation of hundreds of billions of dollars, he singlehandedly compromised PDVSA's future. No recovery plan is ever going to undo what Ramirez did.
Corruption of this kind however cannot go unnoticed. While Ramirez lives protected by Italy's establishment, criminal investigations in other jurisdictions have exposed him. The U.S. Department of Justice has, at the very least, four cases in which his direct responsibilities are impossible to deny: Operation Money Flight and the previous Oberto Anselmi brothers' money laundering scheme, the Andorra case, and the Roberto Rincon and Abraham Shiera bribe for procurement scandal.
There is so much publicly available information in each of those cases that it remains a mystery how Ramirez has not been indicted yet. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Justice is a sclerotic institution, the very best in class. Other American law enforcement agencies are ever so slow in picking up leads and act decisively. Requests sent to counterparts in other jurisdictions made through mutual legal assistance treaties are often late, factually incorrect, filed with errors and ignored. Worst of all, many former DoJ prosecutors are employed by the very criminals DoJ investigates. Probes take so long to come to charges that more often than not criminals just walk.
The latest filing in U.S.A. v Luis Carlos de Leon et al case has a few interesting documents. It relates in particular to Paulo Murta, a completely shaddy Portuguese banker who facilitated a lot of corruption between Ramirez, PDVSA and Portugal's Banco Espirito Santo. One document, dated 5 March 2018, names Rafael Ramirez as a subject of the investigation. This is the clearest sign yet that Ramirez was under criminal investigation in America. But it also shows that despite the fact, over five years have come to pass and no indictment or arrest has ever been made. U.S. authorities have known for over a decade that Ramirez was involved in all kinds of corruption and nothing has been done to bring him to justice. This gives basis to the belief that Ramirez cut a deal.
The document that lays to rest why Ramirez is not sharing a cell with Alex Saab is the Declaration of Henrique Salinas, Murta's lawyer. It is relevant to include the text here, to highlight DoJ's haphazard, unproductive, and Banana-Republic type of behaviour:
"On March 20, 2018, I attended an interview with Mr. Murta in Portugal. We went because Mr. Murta had been notified that he was required to appear at a specific criminal investigations office on that date. Under Portuguese law, Mr. Murta was required to attend that meeting. When a person is a witness in a criminal investigation, rather than a suspect, the person is required to attend the meeting, and the person can even be arrested in case of non-appearance. If the person does not appear, the person is committing a crime. Neither Mr. Murta nor I knew the reason for this particular meeting. All we knew is that the meeting was not related to any ongoing Portuguese investigation, because the law would have required the authorities to provide me, as his attorney, with advance notice if the inquiry was about the pending investigation. The March 20 meeting began in the morning and lasted through the afternoon. It was led by two American Special Agents, although other people, including a Portuguese prosecutor, were also present. The American agents led the meeting and asked all the questions. The meeting began with a very short explanation that these two agents were from Houston, Texas. The agents also explained that Mr. Murta was called there to give his statement as a witness. No one advised Mr. Murta that he could remain silent or that his answers could be used against him in court. Several times throughout the meeting, the American agents said that they wanted Mr. Murta's help. The agents said, multiple times, that Mr. Murta was neither the subject nor the target of any investigation; he was only a witness. They repeated that statement at the end of the meeting. Under Portuguese law, if authorities request that a person make a statement as a defendant, the written request must specify that. The formal letter presented to Mr. Murta did not so indicate, and I had no reason to believe that Mr. Murta was a subject or target of the investigation the agents were asking about. The American agents' repeated statement that Mr. Murta was merely a witness confirmed that belief. Had anyone told us that Mr. Murta was more than just a witness, the entire meeting would have been different. Under Portuguese law, I would have been entitled to ask, and receive an answer, as to whether Mr. Murta was a suspect. If they said yes, I would have been entitled to request for him the formal status of "defendant," which would have required the authorities to disclose all evidence against him and to clarify all the factual allegations against him. That designation also would have entitled Mr. Murta to be notified that he could refuse to answer their questions. And under Portuguese law, if the authorities later decide to designate a person a defendant after having taken a witness statement from him, they cannot use his prior witness statement as evidence against him. Under Article 58 of the Portuguese Code of Criminal Procedure, it is mandatory that a person be formally given the status of defendant as soon as he makes statements during an inquiry against him when there are grounds to suspect that he committed a criminal offense. Under Article 59(1 ), if during an interview with a person other than a defendant, grounded suspicions arise that the person committed a criminal offense, the authority conducting that interview must immediately suspend the interview and proceed to the communication and advice in Article 58. If those rules are not followed, Article 58 prohibits the use of the person's statements as evidence. That did not happen at any time during Mr. Murta's interview with American agents on March 20, 2018. Even at the end of the meeting, the American agents reiterated that Mr. Murta was merely a witness."
Predictably, Murta walked. The fact that American Special Agents, acting on DoJ's behalf in the context of an international probe, disregarded local laws to such an extent is all the evidence required to understand why Venezuelan criminals like Ramirez can easily stay several steps ahead of any criminal investigation. Such hubris explains also why Alejandro Betancourt, Nervis Villalobos, Javier Alvarado and other such crooks live happily ever after and spend the loot in freedom in Spain, the UK, Switzerland, etc.
It is a disgrace that an institution with the resources of America's Department of Justice would make such mistakes that, ultimately, result in people getting away without as much as criminal record after destroying entire nations.