Tag Archives: scams

Joker brokers still snagging suckers

Today I got another mail from a perfectly nice-sounding guy who had been invited into a deal with a shady broker offering oil, which he was going to buy and then turn over to some shady client. I’m amazed that there are still thousands of people out there trying to do this sort of work every day. To make life easier for all of you, here is a flow chart to help you decide whether to accept a “mandate” from some supposed buyer and then use that to buy “oil” from a “refinery” you find on the internet.

In case of any ambiguous answer, skip right to "fuck no"

 

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Start the week right with this exposé on anonymous corporations

Ken Silverstein, one of the great long-standing US investigative reporters, has aimed his razor skills and obsessive memory upon the offshore anonymous corporation game, and especially the law firm Mossack Fonseca & Co., of Panama. A tour de force of reporting, fully worth reading, at this link.

who makes these fictitious entities possible? To conduct business, shell companies like Drex need a registered agent, sometimes an attorney, who files the required incorporation papers and whose office usually serves as the shell’s address. This process creates a layer between the shell and its owner, especially if the dummy company is filed in a secrecy haven where ownership information is guarded behind an impenetrable wall of laws and regulations. In Makhlouf’s case—and, I discovered, in the case of various other crooked businessmen and international gangsters—the organization that helped incorporate his shell company and shield it from international scrutiny was a law firm called Mossack Fonseca…

Since the 70s the law firm has expanded operations and now works with affiliated offices in 44 countries, including the Bahamas, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Brazil, Jersey, Luxembourg, the British Virgin Islands, and—perhaps most troubling—the US, specifically the states of Wyoming, Florida, and Nevada.

Mossack Fonseca, of course, is not alone in setting up shell companies used by the world’s crooks and tax evaders. Across the globe, there are vast numbers of competing firms, and many of them register shells that are every bit as shady as Drex. Proof of this includes the case of Viktor Bout, who, in the 1990s, peddled arms to the Taliban through a Delaware-registered shell. More recently, in 2010, a man named Khalid Ouazzani pleaded guilty to using a Kansas City, Missouri, firm called Truman Used Auto Parts to move money for Al Qaeda.

Scattered news accounts and international investigations have pointed to Mossack Fonseca as one of the widest-reaching creators of shell companies in the world, but it has, until now, used an array of legal and accounting tricks that have allowed it and its clients to mostly fly under the radar.

(The company disputes this claim and asserted in an email that “there is no court or government record that has ever identified Mossack Fonseca as the creator of ‘shell’ companies. Anything tying our group to ‘criminal activity’ is unfounded, inasmuch as we have not actually been notified of the existence of any legal proceeding… thus far.”)

That just gives a hint, please go read it, it’s the sort of education that you need if you want to know how power and money really work in this world.

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Stupid vs smart solar panels

windows 98Not long ago there was a dumb idea going around: photovoltaic roadways. It was almost impossibly stupid, ignoring the fact that roads need to carry almost unlimited loads, need to be recycled every few years and are often shaded or covered with snow or dirt. Nevertheless, it got $2.2 million from probably well-meaning people on the crowdfunding website IndieGoGo.

There’s a new only slightly less dumb idea going around: photovoltaic building windows. It ignores that almost no windows face the sun directly, for good reason. Unless you are in a truly frigid climate, building windows that directly face the sun waste energy by overheating the space, requiring cooling or (often mechanical) ventilation. In the article at that link, the inventor fantasizes about using a PV film instead of current energy efficiency films on skyscrapers. Builders will have to justify any additional cost for the films and all the wiring through the building to collect all this energy. Adding to the cost is any reduction in operating efficiency of the building — if the PV film is any worse than the fancy efficiency films it displaces, you need to count in the increased energy consumption for the building and the need for bigger chillers, ducts and cool water piping. This starts to look like an awful expensive way to produce a tiny amount of electricity.

If you really want to reduce a building’s net energy consumption, one of the best things is to shade the windows so you get daylight without direct blast of solar gain, at least not in summer. PV windows won’t work if they are shaded.

Both of these clever PV ideas are based on a faulty premise: that the lack of solar power generation is for lack of places to put solar panels. There are plenty of places to put solar panels. If solar panels aren’t being installed in your town, it is probably because the level of insolation is too low to justify it, utility rate structures make it uneconomical, or other energy sources in your area are much cheaper. None of these are affected by clever inventions like solar roads or windows. You need to go back to boring old utility rate regulation, carbon taxes, and the weather.

These newfangled ideas obstinately forget all the lessons from decades past about negawatts. This is the idea that generation is no better, and often worse, than conservation. If you want to overall reduce the amount of fossil fuels being used for energy, you should probably drive less on any kind of road, with or without embedded PV cells. You should shade windows, especially in summer. And yes, you should build more PV installations — at the exact angles best suited to capturing peak solar radiation, in locations with minimal cloud and shade. In other words, make good use of roads and windows. Don’t try to cover over wasteful construction with a coat of PV film.

PDVSA Wins Another One, Lucky Igbinedion Not So Lucky

 

Enrique Arrundell, former Venezuelan ambassador to Nigeria

Enrique Arrundell, former Venezuelan ambassador to Nigeria (Source: Venezuela foreign ministry, via Flickr)

PDVSA has won dismissal of a case in US federal district court in which a podunk front company in Nigeria was trying to put the Venezuelan state oil company on the hook for as much as $600 million.

140315 skanga-arevenca-pdvsa questions

Francisco Javier González, head of Arevenca, with Suriname President Desi Bouterse (Source: Arevenca.com)

The case is long and contorted and I’m not going to spend all day trying to sum it up. I wrote it up here and then I wrote another note here when I found out that the Nigerian company was actually a front for Lucky Igbinedion, the former governor of Edo state who since leaving office has spent most of his time fighting off corruption charges and pleading guilty to money laundering. I also gave you a little window into Enrique Arrundell, the one-time Venezuelan ambassador to Nigeria who, from the looks of it, was a dick to his employees when not busy telling his Nigerian friend Igbinedion to give money to Arevenca, the world’s foremost supplier of nonexistent petroleum.

Lucky Igbinedion. Source: pointblanknews.com

Chief Lucky Igbinedion, former governor of Edo state, Nigeria. (Source: pointblanknews.com)

But yours for no extra charge, here’s the judge’s decision. It’s a pulp novel all by itself. If you, like me, enjoy a good narrative, you might want to download this and give it a read. The word that jumps out at me throughout is “not.” As in, things are “not” as they seem.

Skanga’s primary shareholder was Chief Lucky N. Igbinedion (“Igbinedion”). Igbinedion was the Governor of Nigeria’s Edo State at that time.… Skanga had not engaged in any commercial transactions with any entity before the alleged transactions that led to this litigation.… The website does not describe Arevenca as an oil company, or disclose any relationship with PDVSA.… Imoukhuede does not suggest that there was any discussion of Arevenca at the meeting.… The letter does not refer to Arevenca. PDVSA did not respond.… The purported agreement was not documented.… The Certificate of Quality is likewise a fabricated document. Skanga does not argue otherwise.… The wire receipts, however, do not reflect a payment of $1.4 million, but instead reflect two transactions of November 10, 2006, of $580,000 and $470,000, respectively, for a total of $1.05 million. The owner of the numbered account listed on the wire transfers has not been identified.… because he did not have the funds to pay the $2.8 million in freight charges, he obtained a “loan” from a Nigerian company named “M.R.S. Oil & Gas Ltd.” (“M.R.S.”) to make the December 2006 freight payment. The 2006 and 2007 annual corporate filings for M.R.S. reported that the company had not commenced business and had current assets of less than $12,000.… The two purported shipments did not arrive in Nigeria.… “Venezuelan diplomats [are not] empowered in any way to speak on behalf of PDVSA or its affiliates.”

And the key paragraph, dismissing all claims against PDVSA, Arevenca and Francisco Javier González Álvarez:

PDVSA’s April 17, 2014 motion to dismiss Skanga’s claims against PDVSA is granted. The claims against defendants Arevenca and González are dismissed for failure to prosecute. The Clerk of Court shall close the case.

Enjoy! That link again.

PS (updating): PDVSA’s vigorous, successful defense in this case comes in contrast to some other cases I could mention.

US alleges more South America oil corruption. This time in Colombia. (UPDATED)

Bloomberg has the story.

Two former co-chief executive officers of PetroTiger Ltd. paid bribes to an official atEcopetrol SA (ECOPETL), Colombia’s state-controlled oil company, for a $39.6 million oil-service contract, the U.S. charged.

The co-CEOs funneled payments through the wife of an official at Ecopetrol, Latin America’s second-largest oil company by market value, authorities said.

Plenty more where that came from.

And here, yours for no extra fee (since I already paid the fee and I believe in the freedom), the prosecution description of the cases against:
Gregory Weisman
Joseph Seligman
Knut Hammarskjold

As usual, innocent until proved guilty, and I’ll update the tale as more info arrives.

Now let’s see if the allegedly corrupt Colombian official takes any heat. Because if he took one bribe to approve a contract, it’s hard to believe it was the only time that happened. I bet he has some interesting e-mails laying about.

Update at midnight: W Radio cites our friends at Primera Página in this long story explaining what it thinks went down, in detail, in Spanish.

Checking in on the Venezuela ambassador to Nigeria

Screen Shot 2013-09-14 at 9.15.51 AMHey remember how a long time ago I wrote about His Excellency Enrique Arrundell, representative of the Venezuelan state in Nigeria, and how he was allegedly mixed up with the con men who run a fake oil company known as Arevenca? That case is trudging along; PDVSA lawyers plan to depose this  Skanga company about its relationship with Arrundell, Victor Halliday, Venezuelan Deputy Foreign Minister Reynaldo Bolívar, former Caracas Mayor Juan Barreto, former Trujillo (Venezuela) state governor Hugo Cabezas, and His Excellency S.A.A. Adeniran, Nigeria’s ambassador to Venezuela. True to form, Skanga’s attorneys demanded $75,000 from PDVSA in order to pay their fees while they attend the deposition of their clients. More good use of Venezuela’s oil income — paying for fancy air tickets and hotels for US lawyers going to Nigeria.

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Dino Bouterse arrested, old friends free

Dino Bouterse, son of the president of Suriname, was arrested today in Panama to be deported to the US on allegations of drug smuggling.

Moving up in the world, I see. This was him in 2010 with a couple guys who look vaguely familiar.

Representantes-de-Arevenca-con-Dino-Bouterse

 

(Update a week later — seems Dino was pals with lots more interesting characters in Venezuela.)