A journalist with access to the Panama Papers has confirmed that wanted Venezuelan banker Eligio Cedeño’s name appears in the Panama Papers, teleSUR has learned.
“Eligio Cedeño is in there,” said the journalist in an email sent in response to an inquiry. One of the first articles about the Panama Papers had noted that Venezuelans were among those mentioned in the documents from the law firm Mossack Fonseca, which specializes in off-shore tax shelters. “Now we’re trying to figure out when he opened the accounts and what he did with them.”
The information was given to teleSUR by a contributor, who also delivered the tip to other media outlets.
Cedeño, then president of the Bolivar-Banpro Financial Group, and previously the president of Banco Canarias de Venezuela, was arrested and detained in 2007 for breaking Venezuela’s currency laws and engaging in illegal transactions to obtain dollars. At the time, Venezuela was battling an exchange rate being manipulated by outside factors, including the flooding of the currency market with dollars.
The banker was accused of aiding Consorcio MicroStar, another financial institution, in obtaining U.S. dollars.
Microstar had requested to import US$27 million for the purchase of computers. A public prosecutor discovered irregularities in the importation proceedings, and filed charges against Cedeño and Gustavo Arráiz, head of MicroStar.
After more than two years of irregularities which resulted in the delay of his trial, Cedeno was released on Dec. 10, 2009. Soon after, the banker fled to the United States. The judge who allowed his bail, Maria Lourdes Afiuni, was arrested for corruption, abuse of authority, aiding in the evasion of justice and conspiracy in connection to Cedeño’s subsequent escape. Afiuni was conditionally released in 2013.
On December 17, 2009, then-U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela Patrick Duddy wrote a diplomatic cable to Washington that said there “may be information linking Cedeño to criminal activities, including the illicit acquisition of two banks.”
Duddy was wary of the United States releasing any statements specific to Cedeño’s legal status. “Such statements could lead us into a trap whereby the Venezuelan government makes it appear that the United States is in collusion with corrupt bankers,” he said in the cable.
At the time, the U.S. Embassy believed that “at least seven (Venezuelan) bankers being sought in connection with recent banking scandals are in the United States,” Duddy explained in the cable. However, he still encouraged the U.S. government to grant Cedeño asylum. The request was granted in May 2011, and Cedeño currently resides in the United States.
teleSUR does not have access to the Panama Papers database, and therefore cannot verify how many offshore accounts Eligio Cedeño controlled, or what he did with his funds.