Monthly Archives: February 2012

Dept. of WTF: Chavez to partly privatize PDVSA?

South American states found a clever way to rein in their state oil companies in recent years, to make them respond better to both government regulation and the market, and to bring in a bit of cash in the process. They sold off a few shares of their state oil companies to the private sector, on the public stock market. Such a listing puts the company under control of securities regulators as well as environmental and energy regulators. It may cut down a bit on regulatory capture by the huge state oil companies. And if nothing else, the publicly floated stock price gives a benchmark of how the company is doing.

The most famous cases of this sort of semi-privatization are Petrobras (PBR on the New York Stock Exchange) and Ecopetrol (EC). For years, the idea has been bounced around of doing the same to PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company. But President Hugo Chavez, with his fierce rhetoric against privatization, has been an obvious obstacle.

Or maybe not. Continue reading

Bananas? In Chile? Mooo.

Fact: The value of Chile banana exports rose 1161% last year, to $401,604.

Keep that up for a few more years and they’ll be ahead of Ecuador.

Who, me? Getting away from truly important oil news and doing lite food coverage? Well, yes. For a while at least.

Go click that link, it’s good and depressing. I feel bad for having skipped the whole Venezuela riverine oil spill, and now at least I’ve given you a linky or two. Go read.

OH just by the way. Teach me to link to The Economist. A few notes on the oil spill that they either miss or get wrong. The Jusepin oil field used to be run by Total, but PDVSA took over and paid hundreds of millions of dollars in 2006. I guess that money might have been better spent protecting the real national sovereignty rather than the ideological one, but hey, what do I know.

And the San Juan River flows into the Gulf of Paria, not the ocean. The Gulf of Paria is much more environmentally sensitive.

Caracas Gringo’s Epic takedown of Venezuela-Iran fearmongering

Caracas Gringo is a very interesting blerg. I often disagree with the author, but today, he posts something that I agree with 100%. The subject matter here: Venezuela’s supposedly dangerous links with Iran. Gringo finds the same thing I have always found: that these links exist primarily in words, not in deeds. There is a lot of utter bullshit mixed in with any tidbits of real concerns that may exist.

As is Gringo’s wont, s/he adds a lot of interesting details that readers are unlikely to have heard before. Had you heard about the supposed Iranian missile base in Paraguaná? I thought it sounded like bullshit, but Gringo goes further: he sends out a crew to look around.

… an extensive search of the peninsula, with cameras and GPS devices in case they found anything out of the ordinary. These men are former Army infantry officers with combat experience during the 1990s on the border with Colombia, who left active service in 2003. They did not find anything to substantiate…

These spurious claims all come from private sources in Washington, Gringo says. Now, remember: Gringo is close to conservative US circles, and is no Sean Penn or even Marc Weisbrot. So this tidbit is especially interesting:

Real documents mixed with false documents, all originating from the same sources in Washington, DC. From where I’m sitting in Venezuela, the real threats to this country – and the US – are not Iranian at all, but this is another topic that merits a separate post.

So I reached out to my Washington friends, men I respect and admire, with a single question: “Que vaina es esta?”

Without getting too specific for now, I learned that some Venezuelans are supplying the real and false documents to certain gringos in DC. There appears to be some degree of business or political association, and/or friendship, between some of the Venezuelans who fund La Patilla and those who are supplying documents to the gringos.

OK, it’s that inevitable moment, you knew it was coming, now go. Do it. GO READ THE WHOLE THING.

PDVSA Pension Ponzi: US sues 5 people for $29 mln

The US-appointed receiver seeking to recover cash for victims of a Connecticut Ponzi scheme sued Francisco Lopez, Carolina Lopez Pelaez, Carlos M.B. Araya, Christopher Luth and Victor Chong for $29 million, alleging that they received ill-gotten gains.

Here is the filing.

The receiver is trying to recover as much as $300 million that it says was lost by admitted crook Francisco Illarramendi. The receiver’s job is to get back money for the victims, including the pension fund of Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA. Who are these allegations against? Continue reading

PDVSA Pension Ponzi: Javier Marin, Luis Lugo, Hispanic News Press sued

Like many people of my VTR generation, I grew up watching “Better Off Dead” way too often. Who knows, maybe court-appointed receiver John J Carney also watched it a lot. In any case, it’s clear he is eager to collect his $2.

What now? He wants to pull back $1.7 million from Javier Marin, Luis Lugo and Hispanic News Press. Who? Here, let him give you the rundown, from the complaint: Continue reading

PDVSA Pension Ponzi: Illarramendi, family members sued for $300 million

$300 million — yes, it’s astronomical numbers day at Setty’s Notebook. As is my custom, here’s your filing. You want more? Get yourself a Pacer account, or hire me.

This time, the defendants are “Francisco Illarramendi, Maria Josephina Gonzalez-Miranda, Adela M. Illarramendi.” A bit more of the receiver’s rather depressing prose: Continue reading

PDVSA Pension Ponzi: Odo & Nancy Habeck sued for $7.6 million

I guess it was just a matter of time before they started going after the other characters in this play. Odo Habeck, for those without a playbill, was CEO of MK Group LLC, which was one of the companies that Pancho Illarramendi used to create a half-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme that lost as much as $300 million, largely from the pension fund of Venezuela’s state oil company (PDVSA, hence the title of this series of posts) and from Venezuelan billionaire Oswaldo Cisneros.

Or to hear the receiver put it, Habeck was “a fiduciary of some of the investment funds used to perpetrate the fraud. These lofty titles helped Illarramendi cloak his fraud and the MK Group with an air of legitimacy. In reality, however, Habeck abdicated his responsibilities to the MK Group and its funds in return for personal financial gain as the fraud transpired”

Here’s the main filing. This one’s really colorfully written, which makes me even more skeptical about it than about the Beracha one. But hey, this is a blog — so we love color. Colour too, for the British Virgin Islanders in the house. Here you go: Continue reading

PDVSA Pension Ponzi: Moris Beracha sued for $171 million

Filing here. Beracha, reached by phone, had no comment.

Weird filing, in that it never says they actually tried to talk to Beracha. I’d love it if they could give his sworn answer to a pretty basic question: did you get $171 million in illicit gains from Illarramendi? But hey, the truth will out, right? Ah, the majesty of the law.

I’m really busy and can’t stay up til 5 am reading this one. You’re going to have to find the key tidbits yourself this time — I’m off to the next blog post. OK here’s the key key one, anyway, free at no extra charge:

The Receiver’s investigation is ongoing. To date, in total, the Receiver has identified approximately $171,675,738 in fraudulent transfers to the Defendants, comprising investor proceeds and other monies that must be recovered for distribution to Illarramendi’s victims and creditors.

Am I the only one to find humour in the “approximately” followed by 9 significant digits? Ah, math giggles.

Suffice to say that the receiver is doing his job. And that it’s getting awfully easy to scoop the wire services.

PDVSA Pension Ponzi: U.S. sues exPDV exec for $35 mln in alleged bribes (updated)

(note: this post was heavily edited at about 1 am eastern time and then I also edited the headline at 640 am eastern to reflect that Montes no longer works at PDVSA)

Well, I guess this starts to answer some questions.

51 weeks ago, I wrote this: “Second, how does PDVSA end up giving a half-billion dollars to someone who doesn’t have that most basic qualification?”

And this:

My guess is that the bolivars go back into the PDVSA pension fund, where they can be converted to dollars at the official rate. And the dollars sold for bolivars at the black-market rate, and the bolivars converted to dollars at the official rate. And so on, and so on, and so on. Please note: this is speculation. I have no way of knowing whether this was happening. If it was, it was another “financial centrifuge,” spinning off profits for the funds (and reducing Venezuela’s supply of hard currency) every time money was run through it. It’s a nice idea — and it would have complied with the pension’s duty to its pensioners, if not to the rest of the pueblo. In any case, I have no idea if it was happening.

Good news! Looks like I was right. Actually it’s terrible news, but at least I get bragging rights. Continue reading