Venezuela protects guy who allegedly ripped off Citgo

Hey, remember Guillermo David Clamens and FTC Capital Markets?

The Venezuelan Supreme Court decided April 13 to free Clamens and to deny his extradition to the United States, where he was wanted for allegedly stealing $50 million from Citgo, the US unit of Venezuelan state oil company.

Unlike the last case of a Venezuelan financier who ripped off PDVSA, at least the police this time made the motions of taking the guy in. But in the end, Venezuelan justice said no to extradition of Mr. Clamens, who is wanted for conspiracy and wire fraud in New York. I’m no expert at reading Venezuela court filings but from what I can understand, they say that the US didn’t prove that the Clamens they want is the same guy as the Clamens who lives in Venezuela, and moreover Venezuelan law doesn’t allow the extradition of Venezuelan citizens — and Clamens is one. The odd part in this case is that the original complaint in the case came from the US SEC, naming Venezuela’s state oil company as a victim, but from what I can see in the Venezuelan court website, the Bolivarian Republic hasn’t filed its own case against this guy. That is, it was Citgo — part of PDVSA — that first went to authorities, causing the SEC and US Attorney to go after Clamens. But now PDVSA isn’t continuing to pursue the dude now that he is in PDVSA’s home turf in Venezuela.

As far as I can see, this hasn’t been covered anywhere previously, so enjoy your scoop du jour. Here’s the background.

In May 2009, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused Clamens, his companies FTC Capital Markets Inc., FTC Emerging Markets (in Panama) and Lina Lopez of having played a “Ponzi-type” game. Best to let the complaint speak for itself:

This action concerns a fraudulent scheme by defendants Clamens and Lopez, through defendant FTC – a registered broker-dealer controlled by Clamens – to engage in tens of millions of dollars of unauthorized securities trading through the accounts of two FTC customers, Citgo Petroleum Corporation and its parent company, PDV Holding, and to conceal those transactions from the customers. Defendants Clamens and Lopez defrauded Citgo and PDV in part to conceal their prior fraudulent sale of $50 million in non-existent notes to a Venezuelan bank, through another Clamens-controlled entity, defendant Emerging Markets. When the fictitious notes held by the Venezuelan bank purportedly came due in August 2008, Clamens misappropriated $50 million from Citgo’s and PDV’s FTC accounts to fund the redemption.

Along with the civil case from the SEC, there were also criminal accusations of wire fraud and conspiracy, according to US court records. The gringos arrested Lopez in Miami and set her bail at $750,000. But Clamens was in Venezuela when the case came down, and apparently had the good sense not to drop in on any US immigration offices afterward. I’ll translate a bit of the case — and please, if you’re better at this legal translation than I am, feel free to correct my English.

20 October 2011, Sub-Inspector Danny Ramírez, commissioned by the Interpol Investigations Division of the Corps of Scientific, Criminal and Criminological Investigations [CICPC, the Venezuelan FBI], executed a warrant that day in the Prados del Este subdivision, Andalucia Street, Quinta “La 5ta Paila”, in Baruta municipality of Miranda state, and apprehended citizen GUILLERMO DAVID CLAMENS GAUDIO, who was subject to an International Red Notice, published by Interpol Washington 23 March 2010, for the felonies of CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT SECURITIES FRAUD and WIRE FRAUD in the State of New York. The detainee was duly identified as having Venezuelan nationality, being born in Maracaibo, Zulia State, and bearer of identity card number V-7.080.144.

Who knew?

According to the decision, the same day he was taken in, Clamens was freed with conditions — he had to check in with the court every 30 days and wasn’t allowed to leave Venezuela without prior consent of the court.

Then, April 13, the court eliminated even those restrictions and set Clamens free. The part of the explanation I easily understand was: “No resulta procedente la extradición de un venezolano por ningún motivo.” That is, we don’t extradite our own people, no matter what.

Which is fine. But then the question becomes, ok, didn’t this guy commit fraud against both PDVSA and a Venezuelan bank?

Anyway, the civil suit is over. Clamens long since gave up claim to all his property in the USA. And without the main suspect, I suppose the criminal case ends here. Have fun in El Hatillo, dude.

PS: Mr. Clamens, if you’re reading this, your comment is welcome. I haven’t been able to find any way to reach you, but feel free to write me.

Update June 26: It occurred to me I didn’t mention a couple little details. One is that Nazly Cucunuba Lopez aka Lina Lopez, and who according to the court docket “would like to be referred as Nazly Echeverri,” pleaded guilty to some charges back in October 2009. Here is the “information,” or charging document. She pleaded to the crimes alleged in that document without an arraignment or trial. Between March 14 and May 30 of this year, five filings were made in that case, all of them sealed. I don’t see anything about her having been sentenced, and as far as I can see she remains out on bail.

Second little thing: FTC was actually founded by Gen. Carlos Peñaloza, the former head of Venezuela’s joint chiefs of staff. The story you’re reading is actually the result of reader BC sending me a note about a possible Clamens-Peñaloza link. Reading through Peñaloza’s prolific anti-Chávez writing, it struck me as improbable that he was involved in protecting Clamens, given his obvious lack of influence in the current government. I wrote Peñaloza and asked him directly if he knew Clamens, and he wrote back.

Peñaloza said he started FTC in Miami in 1999. He hired Clamens, a former co-worker from their days working in Westfalia Securities. “In 2002 Clamens had a problem with a trade and as compensation offered to buy the company. The offer was accepted and he took charge.” He wrote that he hasn’t seen Clamens since 2002. This matches the documentary record, in which Peñaloza’s name disappears from the FTC corporate records after 2002. While conspiracy-minded folks may not be satisfied with that, I have to say that Peñaloza’s version makes sense. Given how many conspiracies are laying around in the open in Venezuela, I don’t see any need to keep looking at situations that have plausible non-conspiracy explanations.

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7 thoughts on “Venezuela protects guy who allegedly ripped off Citgo

  1. Ken Price

    Why do I suspect that a goodly part of those 50 Million ended up in the pockets of the higher-ups in the Chavez government! If he’s returned to the USA, he’ll talk, and if he’s tries in Venezuela, same thing. He’ll enjoy his “retirement” in Venezuela, on whatever portion of the 50 Million he’s allowed to keep.

  2. Kepler

    ¡No volverán, no volverán…a atraparlo!
    Great finding, pity you don’t write about it in Spanish…but then even if people read about it in Venezuela they would say “tú sí te amargas, yo vivo tranquilo y estoy mejor que nunca”

    1. sapitosetty Post author

      I do occasionally write in Spanish, but for cases like this, I find that other people do a better job of making it work for the Venezuelan audience. I’m content to do the research and let others pick up the ball.

      1. Kepler

        Vale. Si tengo tiempo el domingo lo traduzco, publico y lo enlazo a tu blog y lo paso a un par de periodistiquillos venecos.

  3. Dr. Faustus

    “That is, it was Citgo — part of PDVSA — that first went to authorities, causing the SEC and US Attorney to go after Clamens. But now PDVSA isn’t continuing to pursue the dude now that he is in PDVSA’s home turf in Venezuela.”

    One could also logically assume that it was not one of the Venezuelans/Chavistas employed by CITGO who went to the SEC regarding this financial theft, but rather an American officer of CITGO who accidentally stumbled across an imbalance in the books.

    Wow, this is really interesting stuff. Thanks for your post!

  4. Rafa

    CITGO did not file a lawsuit simply because its Treasurer Maritza Villanueva was in the pocket of Mr. Clamens. Mr. Clamens paid Ms. Villanueva 25 basis points per annum for overnight depostis and 40 basis points per annum for term deposits. The deposits were the funds of CITGO which she directed personnel to deposit with FTC. FTC would then issue false statements claiming that the funds were with BNP Paribas.
    Ms. Villanueva is the wife of PDVSA chief Auditor and she probably shared the corrupted money from Clamens with her husband. I know this because I brokered these transactions between Ms. Villabnueva and Mr. Clamens

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