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Venezuela’s Guaido Investigated for Aid Embezzlement

Vice President Mike Pence, Juan Guaido of Venezuela, and President Iván Duque Márquez of Colombia, Monday February 25, 2019 (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)
Vice President Mike Pence, Juan Guaido of Venezuela, and President Iván Duque Márquez of Colombia, Monday February 25, 2019 (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)

Guaido’s representative in the US, Carlos Vecchio, is also being accused of fraud in CITGO worth US $70 million.

(By Paul Dobson, Venezuela Analysis) Venezuelan authorities have opened a new criminal investigation against self-declared “Interim President” Juan Guaido for his role in the “humanitarian aid” corruption scandal unveiled over the weekend.

Attorney General Tarek William Saab named Guaido as the accused “mastermind” behind the crimes, arguing that the opposition leader “personally directed the corruption mafia.”

70th Aerial Port Squadron personnel load a C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., with humanitarian aid to be delivered to Cucuta, Columbia, for eventual distribution by relief organizations on the ground for Venezuelans Feb. 16, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Ben Hayes)

70th Aerial Port Squadron personnel load a C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., with humanitarian aid to be delivered to Cucuta, Columbia, for eventual distribution by relief organizations on the ground for Venezuelans Feb. 16, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Ben Hayes)

The investigation will focus on accusations of money laundering, corruption, and criminal association, and will be led by two public prosecutors.

Despite the alleged crimes being committed in Colombia, Saab assured that the investigation “corresponds to our jurisdiction” as the funds were assigned from Venezuela. His office is due to request the sharing of evidence and further cooperation from their Colombian counterparts.

The latest scandal unfolded in the aftermath of the events of February 23, when Guaido and the opposition unsuccessfully attempted to force humanitarian “aid” into Venezuela on the Colombo-Venezuelan border crossing.

A report from Miami-based news outlet Panampost was published last Friday, accusing Guaido’s representatives in Cucuta, fellow Popular Will party members Rossana Barrera and Kevin Rojas, of fraud and corruption worth more than US $100,000.

Barrera and Rojas, who were tasked with looking after the soldiers who heeded Guaido’s call to desert, are alleged to have falsified hotel and restaurant payments, as well as inflating the number of soldiers under their responsibility. Guaido has recently called for a thorough investigation into the corruption scandal, despite the Panampost report alleging he had been made aware of it over a month ago.

This is the latest in a series of judicial investigations concerning the activities of the Venezuelan opposition. Guaido is himself the subject of two ongoing investigations for charges including corruption, treason, fraud, and money laundering, having seen his parliamentary immunity lifted in April.

Saab also announced last week that 34 citizens are under investigation, 17 of which have been detained and charged, for their involvement in the April 30 failed putsch. Fifteen are right-wing deputies in the National Assembly. Likewise, Saab informed that 31 people have been arrested for the August 2018 drone assassination attempt against President Maduro, while other suspects remain at large in Colombia and the United States.

Apart from Guaido, Rojas, and Barrera, a number of other members of Guaido’s inner circle, especially those from his hard right Popular Will party, are under the spotlight for corruption and other criminal allegations.

Guaido’s representative in the United States, Carlos Vecchio, was accused on Monday by Venezuela’s Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez of being involved in a corruption scheme operated out of CITGO, Venezuela’s US-based subsidiary of the state oil company PDVSA.

According to Rodriguez, Vecchio and CITGO’s ad-hoc board are responsible for accounting fraud worth more than US $70 million, money which was allegedly destined for interest payments of PDVSA’s 2020 bond. The ad-hoc board was named by Guaido in February after US authorities froze Venezuelan assets in the country, including CITGO.

“It seems like the person directly involved in having pocketed those US $70 million in excesses due to cooking the books is Mr. Carlos Vecchio,” Rodriguez said.

A C-17 Globemaster III delivers humanitarian aid from Homestead Air Reserve Base, FL to Cucuta, Colombia February 16, 2019. This mission was planned at the request of the U.S. Secretary of State, in close coordination with USAID and with the approval of the government of Colombia. The role of the U.S. military during this peaceful mission is to transport urgently needed aid to Colombia for eventual distribution by relief organizations on the ground for Venezuelans impacted by the rapidly deteriorating crisis in their country. This humanitarian mission underscores the United States’ firm commitment and readiness to respond to the man-made political, economic, and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Gregory Brook)

According to statements from the CITGO ad-hoc board, the US Department of Justice approached members this week regarding “presumed irregular actions or corruption.” The board claims it is to start an internal investigation.

Likewise, Guaido’s chief-of-staff Roberto Marrero and his lawyer Juan Planchart faced a preliminary hearing this week after being arrested in April, accused of leading and financing a terrorist cell, usurpation of functions, hiding firearms and explosives, money laundering, and criminal association. According to the decision of a Caracas court, neither man is to be granted bail and both will proceed to trial.

Fellow Popular Will member, Deputy Gilber Caro, however, has been released this week. Caro was detained by authorities in April and had been held without charge since. The lawmaker had previously served 17 months in prison between 2017 and 2018, accused of treason.

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