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Venezuela Strongman Used Alunasa To Launder Money in Costa Rica, Accuses the United States

An investigation by the US Treasury Department concluded that Venezuela’s strongman, Diosdado Cabello, laundered money in Costa Rica through the Alunasa company, located in Juanilama de Esparza, Puntarenas.

Diosdado Cabello (left) with Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro

The events date back to December 2016, says a statement issued on May 18, which said Cabello’s brother, Jose David Cabello, the head of the tax department, and Cabello’s wife, Marleny Josefina Contreras were also sanctioned.

According to the investigation, Cabello, a close ally of Nicolás Maduro and Vice President of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), ordered the Venezuelan Army to designate employees at the Aluminios Nacionales SA (Alunasa) factory to supervise the money laundering operation, which was carried out under the direction of the ex-governor of the State of Bolívar, Francisco José Rangel Gómez.

The Treasury Department maintains the state-owned Venezuelan aluminum company (Venalum) used boats to move minerals and launder money through Panama to the Alunasa headquarters in Costa Rica.

Alunasa is also owned by the Venezuelan State and operates in Esparza, Puntarenas, under the “zona franca” (free zone) regime.

U.S. authorities concluded that a group of Venezuelan officials have used Venalum and Alunasa to launder money to Costa Rica and Russia.

The statement from the Treasury Department explains that Diosdado Cabello, Francisco Rangel Gómez and their associates worked together to illegally access the exploitation of iron ore, which they extracted and exported through the Ferrominera del Orinoco (FdO), a subsidiary of the company. Venezuelan state conglomerate, Corporación Venezolana de Guyana, which also owns Alunasa.

Although Ferrominera del Orinoco was a legal company, Cabello and its partners had leaders within the company that facilitated the illegal extraction of iron and its export, according to the U.S. Treasury.

For these and other acts, Cabello was recently sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for corruption, drug trafficking, and mineral smuggling, thus allowing authorities to freeze his American bank accounts and seize all his property. “A total of US$800 million has been seized and proven to belong to Diosdado Cabello,” according to a Tuesday report from Miami journalist Óscar Haza on Tuesday, June 12. Haza said on his Miami radio show, citing sources within the Trump administration reported on his radio program, “That could cover about two months of Venezuela’s debt service payments.”

On Monday, June 11, the Esparza Municipal Council learned of a letter sent by the president of Alunasa, General Noel Rafael Martinez Rivero, which recognizes that the company suffers from a closure of accounts, blockades and other sanctions that, in his opinion “will result in Alunasa closing its doors”.

“By external elements, unrelated to the normal performance of our activities, we have been targeted by the United States Government that point to the use of the company for the flow of capital outside the lawful trade,” says the letter of the Venezuelan general.

Alunasa located in Esparza, Puntarenas.

The document was received by Karol Jiménez, municipal president, from an Alunasa official, she told La Nación.

Two months ago, in April of this year, Alunasa requested from the Ministry of Labor authorization to suspend work contracts for 230 of its 267 employees, alleging shortage of raw material. The request was for the company to not be responsible for obligations to employees such as severance pay.

The Venezuelan company is dedicated, in Costa Rica, to manufacturing products, such as aluminum sheets, from aluminum imported from Venezuela, for export outside the country.

According to the employees, the firm faces a sharp fall in production since the end of 2017, because since last December it receives raw material “by drops”. As a result, many workers were laid off.

As the Ministry of Labor rejected the request and forced the firm to pay its obligations to employees. The company has not done so, as stated in a letter by the general alleged, read in the Esparza Council minutes, was addressed to President Carlos Alvarado.

Since Chavez took over the reins of Venezuela, the company has been involved in the controversy.

In 2007, during the Oscar Arias government (2006-2010), the 400 employees that the company had at that time also feared that the then president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez (now deceased), would close the company in retaliation for statements of Arias about his government.

Alunasa was a state company created in 1976 that was privatized in 1990. In 2000, the Corporación Venezolana de Guayana (CVG) acquired 100% of the shares and, in 2015, became part of the National Aluminum Corporation of Venezuela.