Súmate Investigated For Receiving More Foreign Funding

Súmate, the Venezuelan organization in charge of organizing the opposition primaries, and known for receiving donations from the US government, is again under investigation for its sources of funding.

Caracas, Venezuela, August 7, 2006 —According to José Albornoz, National Assembly Representative with the pro-Chavez coalition party Patria Para Todos (PPT) and president of the commission currently investigating financing for the opposition primaries, Súmate has received over $400,000 in undeclared deposits from foreign banks since 2003. This does not include contributions made to Súmate by the US Congress funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the German- Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Canadian Embassy, deposits of less than $10,000, or the approximately $1 million that the Superintendent of Banks and Other Financial Institutions (SUBEDAN) verifies that the organization has been managing.

The largest of the undeclared deposits in Súmate accounts over the past three years were made public this past week, including a deposit of $300,000 from a Bank of America account, on November 18, 2005. This transaction in particular has raised attention, because of the large sum and the fact that the deposit was made just ten days before the opposition withdrew from last December’s congressional elections.

According to Albornoz, the funds were never declared to the Commission of Currency Administration (CADIVI), which manages currency transactions, and Súmate is not registered in the national agency.

“Any citizen or legal entity that receives more than $10,000 should be registered with CADIVI,” said Albornoz in late July. “The aforementioned organization [ Súmate ] received $240,000 last year, but nevertheless, this organization is not registered. That is a crime in violation of the laws and the Constitution.”

Súmate co-director, Alejandro Plaz, rejected the accusations this week, stating that Súmate never had to register the funds because the banks automatically transfer the donations from Dollars into Bolivares, and they arrive in their accounts in the Venezuelan currency.

“Mr. Albornoz knows this and if he doesn’t know it, he should get more informed,” said Plaz, according to the daily El Nacional. “The exchange of Dollars to Bolivares is made by the responsible banks,” added Plaz.

Súmate’s accountant, Félix Sánchez, has been summoned to appear before the National Assembly next Tuesday in order to respond to questions regarding the organization’s books. Súmate’s directors criticized this move because they say that Sánchez is a volunteer and cannot represent the organization.

SUBEDAN Investigation

The bank regulatory agency SUBEDAN began an investigation into the Súmate accounts last week at the request of the National Assembly. Last Wednesday, in an effort to carry out the “exhaustive” study, SUBEDAN director Trino Alcides Díaz called on the financial institutions of the country to deliver all available information to his office within three days about the movements in accounts pertaining to Súmate and its directors.

“We are opening up the investigation and we have asked the banks to send all of the information regarding any deposit, for any sum. With this we will be able to, by next week, indicate the exact total that they have received,” said Díaz

According to the daily El Universal, as of Friday, SUDEBAN had detected no illegalities in the financial transactions carried out by Súmate in six Venezuelan banks. Díaz verified that they are investigating the origins of these funds to see if there are any irregularities.

Injunction to Halt Primaries

Meanwhile, the Venezuelan Supreme Court (the Supreme Tribunal of Justice- TSJ) received a petition from a lawyer, Juan José Abreu Araujo, calling for an injunction to halt the opposition primaries, organized by Súmate, and planned for August 13, 2006.

According to Abreu, regarding the Presidential elections set for December 3, 2006, since Súmate does not recognize the “right of the National Electoral Council (CNE), as the constitutional power established under legal Venezuelan order,” to organize internal party elections in Venezuela. “This should be seen, not just a usurpation of power, but also a political coup d’etat to the rule of law and social justice, enforced in Venezuela at the roots of the new Bolivarian Constitution,” said Abreu.

In his written petition, Abreu asks that a legal injunction be issued to “expressly prohibit the NGO Súmate from carrying out the primary elections foreseen for August 13, 2006 in order to choose an opposition candidate.”

According to Union Radio, Abreu also “formally” asked that the TSJ issue an order for Súmate to “carry out elections through the CNE, all in conformity with… Number 6 of Article 293 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.”

In support of the Venezuelan organization, the Secretary General of the political party, Solidaridad (Solidarity), José Luis Farías criticized this week what he called the “irrational, barbaric and absurd [persecution] of the civil organization, Súmate.”

Súmate is the Venezuelan organization that led the recall referendum against Venezuelan President Chavez in 2004 and is currently organizing opposition primaries in advance of the December 3rd Venezuelan presidential elections. In 2003, Súmate received a controversial $31,000 from the US Congress funded NED, for which its directors are currently on trial for “conspiracy against the republican form of the nation.” Since 2003, Súmate has been accused of accepting hundreds of thousands more from various other international sources.