The Spanish courts have set their sights on a still-unnamed collective investment scheme (SICAV) in Malta that was used by former Venezuelan Deputy Electrical Energy Minister Nervis Villalobos to siphon money out of Venezuelan oil company PDVSA and into a web of opaque international financial structures.
Villalobos has been placed under judicial investigation in Spain and letters rogatory have been sent to Luxembourg, where around €40 million have been frozen by the authorities.
Spanish investigators are looking into how Villalobos and his alleged cohorts – Venezuelan Petroleum Ministry legal adviser Carmelo Urdaneta and president of Venezuelan television network Globovisión Raúl Gorrín – intended to launder millions through the Maltese SICAV and a Spanish company with large real estate assets.
Spanish investigators are also working on a link between the funds in the Luxembourg account and those emanating from the Maltese SICAV, which has remained unnamed.
This newest tranche of investigations adds to the tens, or, rather, hundreds of millions of euros laundered through Malta by people connected to PDVSA.
A Spanish court this week cleared Villalobos and his wife of a number of charges but kept one remaining aspect of the investigation open: the use of a Maltese SICAV to funnel funds stolen from the virtually impoverished Venezuelan state toward Villalobos, and the involvement of a Spanish company in the scheme.
The scheme dates back to 2018 when Spain’s financial crimes police (Unidad de Delincuencia Económica y Fiscal – UDEF) identified “a new suspicious money laundering operation” by the former deputy minister.
An investigation was then launched to uncover an alleged international organisation “laundering funds from Venezuelan citizens coming from corruption and fraud carried out in the Venezuelan public company PDVSA”.
The UDEF reported how the ploy was for Villalobos to receive a partial reimbursement for his investment in the SICAV domiciled in Malta through shares and collection rights in a Spanish company with real estate holdings – Columbus One Properties Hospitality Services.
According to a European Investigation Order and letters rogatory issued by Spain, the collection rights were “for an amount greater than $6 million” and the now-frozen funds in Luxembourg are believed to be linked to the Malta-domiciled SICAV.
Malta is no stranger to stolen Venezuelan oil money being laundered through its financial system.
Back in 2018, it had been revealed how former Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was implicated in an American investigation for having laundered some €160 million through the Sliema-based private wealth management firm Portmann Capital Management.
The US criminal complaint alleged that Maduro’s stepsons helped launder US$1.2 billion in funds pilfered from Venezuela’s state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A., or PDVSA.
The ruse was employed through a series of fake investment schemes including fraudulent bond issues and investment funds.
The specific deposits for Maduro’s three stepsons were among 10 wire transfers amounting to around €511 million that was wired to and laundered through Malta, according to the criminal complaint.
It is believed that the firm received upwards of €20 million for laundering the money at a 4% service charge. The Malta-registered company is owned by Swiss financier Kurt Portmann and his son Yves-Alain Portmann. The Malta Financial Services Authority cancelled the company’s licence in April 2022.
Imma kif Malta saret tissemma f dawn il hnizriet li jisru mad dinja kolla.Din ittika ta gzira li lanqas ma igibuna fil mappep jafu b ghina sahansitra il Venezuela biex ikun jistaw jahbu flus misruqin mil poplu
How the hell did we ever get off the “grey list”?