Welcome to my blatant self-promotion area. I am a bit of an obsessive reporter. Even though this site barely pays (I had a fundraiser in 2010, but otherwise I’ve never gotten money from the site) I can’t help but follow interesting stories. The traditional media often miss stories because they cross too many borders, require a grasp of first-year algebra, or don’t have the right “news peg.” I follow the news cause I like to. Plus you never know, maybe one day I can write a book. Some of my greatest hits:
Arevenca: The world’s biggest nonexistent oil company
I had an eye on Arevenca for years. When they claimed to have the biggest oil deal in world history, I couldn’t resist writing about the company, which makes a living selling fictitious oil from nonexistent refineries. Someone responded via a pseudonymous comment on the blog, which according to a source was actually the main man at Arevenca. I pleaded for victims to come forward; so far I have gotten testimonials from victims in Europe, Asia and three Caribbean islands. People who were nearly hoodwinked by Arevenca have written from the US, Netherlands, and parts unknown.
The focus of the story then moved to Aruba and Puerto Rico. I found out about a victim in Puerto Rico who lost $7.8 million when buying a shipment of asphalt from Arevenca in August 2011. The asphalt never arrived. But the next month, Arevenca showed up in Aruba with a jet painted in the colours of a new airline, Fly Aruba, with announcements of how this airline would revive the island. Arevenca later said it had invested $7.8 million in the airline.
Arevenca’s new airline, Fly Aruba, hired dozens of local workers for training, even though the island’s authorities, newly aware of Arevenca’s history in the oil industry, were taking their time approving Arevenca’s operating license.
This was when the Puerto Rico victims sued, blaming both Arevenca and local middlemen Madasi Oil for the nearly $8 million loss. Madasi’s founder initially freaked out at me and said I was defaming him, but later calmed down and sued Arevenca himself.
Arevenca’s founder, Francisco Javier González, was stuck in Aruba and took to the press to blame his troubles on local executives. He has since paid his tax debt and left the island.
Through all of this, another lawsuit has been winding along, in which a little-known Nigerian company has been suing Arevenca and Venezuela state oil company PDVSA for $100 million for a fraudulent oil sale very similar to that mentioned in the Puerto Rico case. (I also wrote about that case in El Mundo, a business newspaper in Caracas.) Arevenca hasn’t responded, but PDVSA has been defending itself in US federal court in New York. The Venezuelan ambassador to Nigeria, who was accused in the lawsuit of being a front man for Arevenca, lost his job in 2013.
Reputation management gone wrong
I showed that someone calling himself Carlos Díaz had registered hundreds of websites as part of a mammoth reputation management campaign on behalf of dozens of people associated with scandals in Venezuela. I found that the oldest of the sites ever registered to Díaz was that of Clean Reputation, a Caracas reputation management company run by the generally reputable Rafael Núñez. The story got thousands of readers and was noted on Boing Boing. Google immediately adjusted its search database to ignore sites I had noted as existing only to manage search results. In apparent response, someone posted three defamatory sites to attack me. The person publicized those sites on Twitter feeds largely dedicated to publicity for Banesco, Venezuela’s biggest bank.
Questions about Pacific Rubiales
I keep an eye on the Colombia oil patch. When a new monkey species was discovered in Colombia, I overlaid its habitat map onto the map of Colombia oil exploration and found that Pacific Rubiales and Talisman Energy had oil exploration rights to the monkey’s tiny habitat range. The story became the top featured post on WordPress.com over a long weekend, garnering thousands of hits. Pacific Rubiales, as the biggest private-sector oil company in Colombia, was the focus of the story.
In March 2011, I wrote the first report to point out that Pacific Rubiales had overstated its 2010 oil production as late as February 2011, and that insiders sold shares before real 2010 production was announced. Pacific Rubiales stock fell 7 percent in the next two days without other news events. I pressed analysts to ask more questions, and someone — apparently Pacific Rubiales Vice President of Planning Luis Augusto Pacheco Rodriguez — made a hackneyed attempt to smear my character.
Alange Energy: High-flying, fast-falling
Alange Energy was a Canada-listed oil explorer with properties in Colombia. When it released year-end results for 2010, the stock fell hard because year-end oil production was way below where the company’s executives had promised it would be. I raised questions about the credibility of their explanations. I found a smoking gun showing how the company misled investors. I pointed out some questionable insider trading. Alange CEO Luis Giusti resigned. I summed up Alange’s deceptions in a long post.
In April 2011, shareholders sued Alange. A couple days later, as the Colombian press picked up the story, Alange threatened to sue me. They backed off, and soon enough the company confirmed everything I had said and more.
PDVSA Pension Ponzi
When the US Securities and Exchange Commission sued a Connecticut hedge fund manager for alleged misuse of investor funds, the local press in the US reported it straight. The Venezuelan press picked up that the defendant was a well known Venezuelan. But nobody in either place had the combined expertise in US securities law and Venezuelan financial weirdness to understand the full extent of what was going on. I wrote this post 16 February 2011, using court filings to show, among other things, that Venezuela’s state oil company was running an illegal currency market and that Venezuela could end up owning a US nuclear energy company.
The post became a resource for people trying to understand the case, including lawyers and other professionals on all sides. I followed up a week later with a piece about a possibly suspicious plane that was mixed up in the proceedings, and then, March 7, covered Illarramendi’s guilty plea, posting original documents from a cyber-cafe in the mountains of Peru. At the end of March, I gave context for comments by the state oil company president. April 3, I speculated that the fraud alleged in the case was just the latest in a series of frauds dating back years, and that the money may have been lost long ago. Little updates followed, including this snarky number about Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, and its chief financial officer. People kept pleading guilty to related crimes, and even though the local press and wire services were starting to do their job, I kept running the statements and bits of commentary.
23 May 2011, I used court documents to run an exclusive story showing that Venezuelan billionaire Oswaldo Cisneros had over $100 million invested in the Ponzi scheme at the center of this story. Updates followed, including this from Reuters. I made a point of giving everyone the right to reply, as I hold this blog to something like the ethical standards of a serious news organization.
At the end of 2011, a bit player (who was once one of Venezuela’s top accountants) was sentenced. In February 2012, the US sued the Connecticut hedge fund manager, Illarramendi, for $300 million and also brought in a whole bunch of new characters, with suits against Moris Beracha, Javier Marin, Luis Lugo, Hispanic News Press, Odo & Nancy Habeck, and five others.