Cash traveled with food containers (CLAPs) and at a "technical" stop in that country entered the financial system.
Investigations by the U.S. Treasury Department and other Washington agencies indicate that Venezuela would have used shipments of food sent from Mexico, as part of its CLAP food bag program, to receive camouflaged cash from Mexican cartels in payment for drug shipments sent by Chavista leaders.
This operation, according to a research collaborator, was allegedly carried out by stopping the ships in Puerto Limón, Costa Rica, where the Venezuelan state-owned company Alunasa has a terminal. Through that company, the money would have entered the financial system and reached accounts in Russian banks linked to the leaders Diosdado Cabello and Tarek el Aissami.
This would have happened with cargoes managed by El Sardinero Es Servicio, S. A., the Mexican company that in recent years has exported more food to Venezuela, directly or through subsidiaries, for the food bag program of the Local Supply and Production Committees (CLAP).
Curiously, the El Sardinero group is now being especially favored by the Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Despite having had some sanction during Peña Nieto's previous presidency, that company, through its subsidiary Surtipractic, has obtained a $70 million contract to supply food for the Federal Police and would be close to signing an agreement to provide food for most of Mexico's federal prisons.
Why, when it was possible to buy food in other countries more specialized in food exports, such as Brazil or Argentina, did Nicolás Maduro's Venezuela focus the acquisition of products for the CLAPs in Mexico? Why does this happen if even part of those products that arrive in Venezuela from Mexico are not even produced there, but are previously acquired in other places, such as the United States?
That's the key question behind U.S. research. "The researchers' hypothesis was that, given Venezuela's narco-state character, it was normal for Chavista leaders to try to resolve the country's need for food while at the same time resolving how to get Mexican cartels to pay for Colombian cocaine that leaves through Venezuela," says one of the investigation's collaborators.
The fact that food purchases abroad for the CLAP program were centralized by Alex Saab and Álvaro Pulido, two Colombians with a long history (the first has been especially linked to the FARC by the U.S.; the second has been in prison on drug trafficking charges), pointed in that direction. Both organized a whole logistics, through the company Group Grand Limited, for the purchase of food in Mexico, counting on the supply of local companies, such as El Sardinero, whose president, Juan Carlos Fernández Francés, has established a close relationship with the Saab-Pulido tandem.
The business based on the surcharge or even the shipment of products that have already expired, something especially reprehensible given the extreme need of the Venezuelan people, was already denounced in detail by the U.S. Treasury on July 25. The Mexican Ministry of Economy has calculated that this business moved more than 850 million dollars between January 2017 and August 2018.
New elements in the investigation, according to the person consulted, suggest that the food shipments have been used to send cash linked to drug trafficking. Ships departing from the Mexican port of Veracruz stopped at Puerto Limón in Costa Rica instead of sailing directly to La Guaira in Venezuela.
In Puerto Limón, the Venezuelan state-owned aluminum company Alunasa has a terminal for its own use. Someone who intervened in the operations carried out in those facilities confirmed to the investigation that it was frequent that among the food containers that arrived - at a "technical" stop that was later recorded in the navigation records - there was one with cash.
This movement explains the alert issued in May 2018 by the U.S. Treasury on the use of Alunasa for money laundering by Venezuelan leaders such as Diosdado Cabello, whose plot for illicit enrichment within Chavismo, in addition to the shared business of drug trafficking, includes many of the operations related to the Corporación Venezolana de Guayana, dedicated to the exploitation of various minerals in the state of Bolivar. The fact that many of Alunasa's commanders had something to do with the Venezuelan intelligence services corroborates the "strategic" interest of the Chavista leadership in that company abroad.
Following the U.S. alert, in June 2018 the National Bank of Costa Rica closed all accounts corresponding to Alunasa. Apparently, many cash deposits would have been made in those accounts, when no real client of the company pays in that way, and transfers would have been processed, directly or through Panama, to accounts in Eurofinance Mosnarbank, Gasprombank and VTB, linked to Diosdado Cabello and Tarek el Aissami.
Sources of the investigation state that while part of the cash transfers were unloaded in Costa Rica, to enter the financial system and go to the current accounts of top Chavista leaders, another part continued to Venezuela, possibly destined for the FARC.