Venezuelan Bank Fraud Case: Three Executives Flee, Government Intervenes in Related Companies

Following the government’s nationalisation of two banks and liquidation of two others for banking law infractions, three bank executives fled to the U.S., and the government intervened in food companies owned by currently detained bank owner, Ricardo Fernandez.

By Tamara Pearson – Venezuelanalysis.com
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Mérida, December 9th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Following the government’s nationalisation of two banks and liquidation of two others for banking law infractions, three bank executives fled to the U.S., and the government intervened in food companies owned by currently detained bank owner, Ricardo Fernandez.

Interior Relations Minister Tareck El Aissami announced on Tuesday that two Venezuelans implicated in the bank scandals flew to Atlanta, and one to Miami, and that a fourth person was captured while trying to board a plane to Miami.

The Public Prosecutor had already issued ten arrest warrants for banking executives and 19 prohibitions on leaving the country for involvement in organised crime and for banking law infractions. This followed the nationalisation of two banks, Confederado and Bolivar Bank, and the liquidation of two others, Banpro and Canarias, last week.

On Monday, the Institute in Defence of People’s Access to Goods and Services (Indepabis), along with the national guard, intervened in and inspected four food companies: Pronutricos, Proarepa, Fextun, and Venarroz. The companies are owned by Ricardo Fernandez, who also owns the four banks, and who was detained two weeks ago.

Fernandez is known as the “Tsar of Mercal”, as some of his companies, including Pronutricos and Proarepa, supply the government’s subsidised food markets.

The minister for commerce, Eduardo Saman, said the government is observing Fernandez’s companies to make sure there are no supply disruptions following the nationalisation of the banks.

“We can’t allow these companies to come to a standstill; they are companies of essential food products. We’re going to intervene wherever there is a risk or a company standstill, then apply measures, pay the workers, make the companies function, and we’ll sell the product in [the government subsidised markets],” Saman said.

The general secretary of the Pronutricos workers union, Wilmer Leon, said the management of that company disappeared as soon as the government intervened in the banks, and the 800 workers have gone two weeks without pay.

On 3 December Indepabis temporarily occupied Venarroz, a rice packaging plant in Guarico state, which had been paralysed for the last four months. According to ABN, workers have now taken over the company and made it 100% operative.

Workers at the plant said they hadn’t been paid for a month and that the owners had been taking parts of the machinery little by little to devalue the plant and impede its functioning.

“We are committed to production going ahead, because the extent to which Venarroz thrives is the extent to which the workers will have stability,” said the maintenance supervisor at the plant, Reinaldo Hidarza.

Indepabis coordinator in Guarico, Orlando Chacin, said the plant could now guarantee 11 million kilos of rice per quarter, which it will sell to the government subsidised food market, Mercal, and regulated-price food distributor, Pdval.

“Today is a day of celebration for the workers because they showed that they don’t need a capitalist manager to advance in the production of food,” Chacin said.

On Sunday, the mayor of Guante in Anzoategui state, Jonathan Marin, took over Fernandez’s tuna factory, Fextun. Marin said the company hadn’t been functioning for seven years, and that the act of recuperating the factory was to help dignify the population of Guante.

Marin also said the machinery would become part of a social production company, and would generate 1,200 jobs, 80% of which would be for women.

In another measure to combat banking fraud, on Saturday, police arrested Arne Chacon, bank president and brother of the minister for science and technology, Jesse Chacon, for his alleged involvement in financial crimes. Jesse Chacon has since resigned in order to guarantee transparency.