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Banks helped Venezuela’s ‘boligarchs’ extract billions, according to FinCEN files

Over the weekend, news similar to the Panama Papers hit the media with revelations related to reports of money laundering. From these papers emerge data about movements for the order of 5 billion dollars of political leaders and businessmen linked to both former President Hugo Chávez and President Nicolás Maduro. Venezuela is suffering one of the world’s gravest humanitarian crises. Inflation is out of control and the country’s oil industry, which once fueled the economy, is in shambles. One in three Venezuelans is not getting enough to eat, and about 5 million Venezuelans, more than one in six, have fled the country. Wealthy businessmen with close ties to the governments of Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro, have fueled the disaster. These tycoons are known as “boligarchs,” an ironic reference to South American independence hero Simon Bolívar, who Chávez invoked as the inspiration for his political movement. Their wealth derives in large part from government contracts, often to provide services for the poor. A cache of secret bank reports, obtained by BuzzFeed News and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, shows how boligarchs moved vast sums of dollars in public money out of Venezuela, including money intended for housing and other basic services, even as the country economy was collapsing. The cache, known as the FinCEN Files, includes more than 2,100 suspicious activity reports filed by banks to a U.S. Treasury Department agency known as the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. The information includes more than 2,100 suspicious activity reports (SARs), which different banks submitted to the Financial Crimes Network (FinCEN), an agency of the United States Department of the Treasury. Between 2009 and 2017, several banks reported suspicious transactions related to Venezuela for a total amount of more than 4.8 billion dollars, according to an analysis by ICIJ. About 70% affect public resources and its main protagonist is a State institution, such as the Ministry of Finance or the state oil company. The documents also reveal the pivotal role played by banks in Europe and the United States in facilitating the flow of money from Venezuela, despite blatant red flags signaling financial improprieties. Smaller lenders helped wealthy Venezuelans spirit cash out of the country, setting up offshore accounts that hid the origins of their money, the records and other documents show. Venezuela’s national oil company and an anti-poverty program called the Misión Che Guevara were among the state agencies that paid Ceballos companies huge sums, routed through a shell company in London. Overall, banks reported more than $ 4.8 billion between 2009 and 2017 in suspicious transactions with links to Venezuela, an ICIJ analysis found. Nearly 70% of that amount involved public money and had a Venezuelan government entity, such as the Ministry of Finance or the state oil company, as a party. With information provided by ICIJ
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