Updated: Aug 22, 2021
How Alejandro Betancourt got rich off the Venezuelan electricity crisis and probably won't be charged: Reuters reveals bank records
Many of his associates have or are being prosecuted, others are awaiting trial, but the famous "Bolichico" may be unharmed, free from accusations and continue to live like a king in Europe.
By Maibort Petit
In the shadow of the Venezuelan electricity crisis, an enormous fortune would have been forged that - regardless of the damage caused to the population with the irregular and ill-fated contracts obtained from the ruling party - ran outside the national borders where it multiplied and offers its owner a life like a king in European lands.
This is Alejandro Betancourt, a member of the so-called “bolichicos”, a group of men from wealthy families who have fallen into disrepair and who found in the alleged irregular negotiations with the Chavista government, the niche to “resurface” and become billionaires at the expense of the hardships of the Venezuelan people who were plunged into one of the most bloody energy crises in the world. And it is that the blackouts - which did not stop, but multiplied after obtaining a series of contracts, becoming a catastrophe - served Betancourt and his company Derwick Associates Corp. to sign negotiations with the National Electric Corporation, Petróleos de Venezuela SA and the Corporación Venezolana de Guayana for the construction of thermoelectric plants, despite lacking the experience and capital to carry out the task. Through the alleged payment of bribes, the businessman and his partners would have ended up defrauding the state by only delivering scrap metal or overpriced reconstructed equipment that little or nothing solved the Venezuelan electricity shortage .
An investigative work by the Reuters news agency, signed by Angus Berwick on June 23, 2021, entitled "A power magnate, while Venezuela is darkening, illuminates his image abroad" , reveals a series of “previously undisclosed bank, court and corporate records relating to the investigations provide new perspective on how Betancourt used the wealth he earned at home to remake himself abroad, even as the intended beneficiaries of those power projects endure frequent and prolonged blackouts ”.
The note states that before the collapse of the Venezuelan economy collapsed in the last decade, "well-connected negotiators" obtained billion dollar government contracts that they then moved abroad. Capital migrations that aggravated the country's economic problems and led its protagonists to enjoy generous lives outside of Venezuelan territory. Of these, Alejandro Betancourt is a good example, according to the leaders of the opposition.
What the records say
Angus Berwick goes on to refer to what the documents to which he had access reveal and which indicate that after obtaining the contracts for the power plants, Alejandro Betancourt started a cycle of bank deposits, investment in companies and the purchase of properties in, at least ten countries in Europe and America. The note accounts for more than $ 300 million abroad during the last decade. Investments include those carried out in homes in Paris, New York, Florida and Spain, as well as in companies such as Hawkers  - a Spanish sunglasses company - which came to partner with Lionel Messi to design a line of products .
Derwick Associates Corp has been in the eye of New York federal prosecutors, who have been investigating whether the Betancourt companies laundered money or paid bribes related to energy concessions, according to the journalist, he was informed by two people related to the inquiry.
Meanwhile, he adds, in the state of Florida, another federal investigation - other sources would have revealed - puts Betancourt as the "target" of an investigation in which Matthias Krull, a former Swiss banker with German citizenship and resident in Panama, is pleaded guilty in 2018 to conspiracy to commit money laundering . The banker, who ended up collaborating with the US justice system, had to do with a plot that allowed Francisco Convit Guruceaga to launder more than USD 1,200 million, coming from energy businesses and who, moreover, is a partner of Betancourt in Derwick [6 ].
The investigative work refers that, beyond the Atlantic, specifically in Andorra, "an investigation into alleged bribes paid to Venezuelan officials through banks in the European principality also reviewed the transactions of a company owned by Betancourt, according to the documents" . This is a 2018 indictment involving 28 people, including an ex-contractor for Alejandro Betancourt. According to the Andorran prosecutor's office, that contractor's payments to a Venezuelan government official are "bribes." The "Betancourt contractor and the former official he allegedly paid are awaiting trial," the note reads. It should be noted that Alejandro Betancourt was not prosecuted in Andorra, he has not been accused in either of the two American cases and he states that, possibly,
Betancourt defends himself
It also reports that Betancourt refused to be interviewed for the writing of the note, although he cites a letter from the businessman's lawyer, Thomas Clare, who “described as' categorically false 'any suggestion that Betancourt or his company' participated in corrupt activities, such as bribery, bid rigging, kickbacks, or other illegal behavior. ' Clare denied that Derwick failed to complete the power projects, saying the company "completed all contracts to the satisfaction of the Venezuelan government" and that any problems since then have been the result of mismanagement by various state agencies operating the plants. Regarding Betancourt's role in financing Hawkers, he said, "My client's investment in Hawkers is legitimate."
Alejandro Betancourt told the Spanish newspaper ABC, according to the note, that his energy projects created an "electric armature ring" to strengthen the energy supply in Venezuela, a statement that contrasts with that of experts who assure that they, rather, they "left millions in the dark."
To illustrate, Berwick makes mention of several of the localities where the plants sold by Derwick operate, where its inhabitants must endure blackouts for up to several days. Something that the National Assembly certified in 2016 when it investigated the electricity crisis and determined that the company owned by Alejandro Betancourt “over-invoiced the government by a factor of three, particularly by inflating the cost of the turbines. The report, which looked at the $ 1.51 billion cost for eight of Derwick's 12 projects, said the fair market value should have been $ 551 million. The plants, according to the report, required repairs and modifications from the beginning (…) 'The execution of the projects,' the commission wrote, 'led to contingencies that should have been addressed in the design phases,
Betancourt's lawyers consider the report to be "a political document" by opponents with "a clear political bias to attack and discredit the government's efforts." In defense of their client, they presented a 2017 prosecution report exonerating him.
The Reuters note notes that "the contradictory evaluations in Venezuela are typical of the hyperpartisan reality in the country, where President Nicolás Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, assured the loyalty of almost all state institutions, including the courts." .
He leaves the note that Alejandro Betancourt's role was that of an intermediary given Derwick's lack of expertise in the matter in which he proposed, a builder of power plants.
For this reason, ProEnergy Services LLC, a US contractor, appealed to draft the proposals that it would present to the Venezuelan government for consideration with a change in the profit margin.
The Betancourt company paid, according to the documents, about a billion dollars for the work that, apart from the proposal, included the purchase of turbines and the construction of the plant.
The revised documentation for the writing of the Reuters work refers that Betancourt bought Derwick in 2007, which was registered in Panama, becoming one of the two dozen companies that his partners established or bought in Panama, the United States, the Caribbean and Europe in the coming years.
In the bloody electricity crisis that Venezuela was suffering, Betancourt saw the opportunity and in 2010 signed a “consulting and advisory” agreement with Nervis Villalobos, then vice minister of electrical energy who, according to the contract that Angus Berwick reviewed for the drafting of the note, he lobbied for the negotiation to take place. Villalobos is part of those investigated in the Andorra plot. Neither he nor his lawyer wanted to speak to the journalist.
As an example of the price premiums imposed by Derwick, Reuters cites the case of the Picure plant north of Caracas, for which ProEnergy charged USD 32.6 million and Derwick sold to the Venezuelan government for USD 79 million, 2.4 times the price of ProEnergy.
A justified overprice in the opinion of Betancourt's lawyer, who said the increases reflect the risks that Derwick took in a volatile Venezuela.
Like this one, Derwick signed a dozen thermoelectric power tenders. Rafael Ramírez later said that the contracts were hastily signed due to Hugo Chávez's rush for quick solutions. "The whole process was complicated (…) With more calm, perhaps this company would not have qualified."
The note states that between August and October 2010, as revealed by the invoices reviewed by Reuters, the government canceled some USD 140 million from Derwick in a Derwick account at JPMorgan Chase & Co in New York and received other payments for USD 166 million in a bank in Panama, all for energy projects.
The Reuters note warns that it could not be certified how much Alejandro Betancourt received of the USD 2 billion that Derwick received in contracts or where other deposits could have been made.
Data Derwick's attorneys provided for the story indicated that the profit was $ 274 million from the power plants, but it did not specify its total revenues. The law firm added that the Venezuelan government still owes Derwick USD 184 million.
The papers handled for the note also state that "Betancourt set up an office in a Caracas skyscraper and moved around the city in armored vehicles, according to documents from Derwick and three people familiar with his activities" and adds that, in November 2010, he paid almost $ 12 million for a penthouse in Manhattan.
Similarly, Alejandro Betancourt "made detailed payments later by prosecutors in Andorra." The scandal involved more than 2 billion euros in "kickbacks" paid to numerous Venezuelan officials, in exchange for the approval of millionaire state contracts.
The review of the case reveals that neither Betancourt nor Derwick were targets of the investigation. "The payments cited in the indictment involved Villalobos, the contractor that Derwick hired to pressure energy officials in Venezuela."
It is explained that the bank records reveal that, at the end of 2011, Minenven Corp, a company registered by Betancourt, made three transfers that added 5 million euros to a Villalobos account at Banca Privada d'Andorra.
After these payments, the bank records show that Nervis Villalobos transferred 2.6 million euros to an account in the same bank of Javier Alvarado who until a year ago had been director of Corporación Eléctrica Nacional SA. Villalobos and Alvarado were charged and are awaiting trial. The note warns that the "prosecution did not affirm that the payment of Villalobos to Alvarado was ordered by or on behalf of Betancourt."
As time passed, Alejandro Betancourt left Venezuela and went to Europe "looking for opportunities." He had his pockets full "and a European passport due to family ties in Italy, he moved to Spain."
The Spanish press reported his lavish wedding in July 2012 and public records reveal that he paid 24 million euros for El Alamín, the castle that became his home, as well as his investment in Hawkers. "Property and court documents also show real estate purchases in Paris and Florida for that year," the note adds.
America sharpens the eye
But as the Andorran investigation progressed, problems were brewing in the United States, reveals the Reuters note indicating that, at the end of 2013, Daniel Rosenau, a ProEnergy seller in Missouri, was struck by the negotiation of the company with Derwick.
He reviewed the documentation and was surprised by the steep price increases that occurred between the ProEnergy drafts and the Derwick proposals. He handed over file copies to prosecutors.
Then came the investigations of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York for money laundering and bribery that are still ongoing, according to what sources linked to the case revealed to Reuters.
In the same way, it is noted in the note that in December 2014, the Department of Justice asked Switzerland for information about the Derwick accounts and a Swiss court that approved the request. "Derwick had by then transferred at least $ 58 million to Swiss accounts, according to the ruling," the note reads.
Since Betancourt has changed residence, he now lives in London in a London mansion valued at £ 30 million, according to what public records reveal. Possibly that continues to be his way of life and the investigations never end up taking him to jail.
REFERENCES  Latin Time. "Alejandro Betancourt: the" Bolichico "accused of making a fortune at the expense of darkness in Venezuela". May 30, 2019. https://eltiempolatino.com/news/2019/may/30/alejandro-betancourt-el-bolichico-acusado-de-hacer/  Reuters. “A power tycoon, while Venezuela goes dark, brightens his image abroad”. June 23, 2021. https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/venezuela-spain-investor/  Hawkers. https://www.hawkersco.com/  OCCRP. "Plunging Venezuela into darkness." June 12, 2019. https://www.occrp.org/es/investigations/plunging-venezuela-into-the-dark  Venezuela Politics. "The benefits obtained by Mathias Krull, the banker who informed the US about the criminal plot that involves Maduro, Raúl Gorrín and the Bolichicos." September 7, 2020. https://www.maibortpetit.info/2020/09/los-beneficios-obtenidos-por-mathias.html  Venezuela Politics. "Francisco Convit Guruceaga: Accused of fraud and laundering USD 1,200 million from corruption in PDVSA". May 28, 2019. https://www.maibortpetit.info/2019/05/francisco-convit-guruceaga-acusado-de.html