Opening the door to the apartment 45C of One57 building in 57 street is to enter in one of the most luxury apartments in Manhattan. Surrounded by windows from floor to ceiling, the 45C offers privileged views of the Great Apple from any of its rooms: Central Park, Hudson River and, beyond, the city’s horizon. In each one of the spaces in this corner, there is something that elevates the category to another level: Italian marble, granite, openings that look like works of art, private bathroom for each of the four bedrooms, and a kitchen wallpapered with electrical appliances of the last generation. The owner is María Lila Rincón, wife of Roberto Enrique Rincón Fernández: the Venezuelan businessman who plead guilty in 2015 of money laundering and deviation of more than USD $1.000 million from the state oil company (PDVSA), in one of the largest cases sentenced for corruption in the country.
Valued in USD $17 million, this apartment, is in one of the most expensive areas per square meter on the island. The zone is known as the Billonaire Row, the avenue of multimillionaire, famous for a concentration of fortunes that spread in a group of eight residential skyscrapers. The One 57, where the property owned by Rincon’s wife is located, was inaugurated in 2014. The structure was conceived by the awarded French architect Christian de Portzamparc, its interiors designed by his danish colleague Thomas Jull-Hansen, also a world class professional. Many of the apartments on the area were acquired as real estate investment of large capitals and currently are for sale, just as it happens with the one of María Lila Rincón.
That is how a real estate company promotes the building were María Lila Rincón has an apartment.
That property, however, is not the only owned by Maria Lila Rincón in USA: the family owns at least two other apartments in Brickell, the financial heart of Miami city. The properties are valued in around USD $19 million in total and make part of a journalistic investigation work that followed the track of 11 properties of Venezuelans in USA, a sample that reflects the magnitude of persons of interest operations in that country.
The list includes relatives of former high government officials – just as the wife of Carlos Erick Malpica, he not only was treasurer of the nation and finances chief of the state oil company but was also nephew of Cilia Flores, Nicolás Maduro’s wife -; former PDVSA officials – like Alfonzo Gravina and Karina Núñez, linked to the network of Rincón -; and high profile contractors from chavismo and members of their family or businesses – like Naman Wakil, Ricardo Morón, Morela Hernández de Morón, María Lila and José Roberto Rincón, Atahualpa Fernández Arbulu, Franz Muller and Amir Nassar Tayupe—. Of the 11 properties tracked, four of them have been indicted by the United States justice and one is included among the more of 200 persons close to chavismo incorporated to the Clinton list of the Treasury Department.
Chavismo INC. identified 33 properties related to them, which cover a price range starting from USD $220.000 to luxury properties that exceed the USD $17 million, together they can reach up to USD $60 million or more. Those properties were acquired between 2006 and 2019 in United States, one of the most attractive places for who want to invest in properties and go unnoticed. All the properties tracked for this work are in Florida State – mainly in Brickell neighborhood – except for two of them located in Texas and New York. The majority are owned by companies that do not register commercial activity, except for being the property owner. Others are under the name of wives, business partners, family, and in some cases have been purchased after being sold at a loss few months later.
According to the National Association of Real Estate, Venezuelans figure since 2003 on the first places among Latin Americans that have bought the most properties in north American soil, which has become in one of the favorite countries to migrate. The majority did legal operations on the real estate market, but others have the local authorities attention, who lead the advantage in the fight against corruption from Venezuela. Only in south Florida, the region that has attracted the largest part of the migration, properties have been seized for a value higher than USD $450 million, from which a part has been properties. Till the date, in United States has started 38 investigations and judicial cases that involve over 100 persons and evidence the defalcation made to the Venezuelan state for more than USD $16.049 million, according to Chavismo INC. digits.
None of this intimidated Venezuelans linked to chavista power, which, anyway, invested in properties. Doing it is legitimate: anyone can buy a house wherever they want, only at some point they will have to credit where the money come from, that allows them to do it. Chavismo INC. only shares here information about the acquisitions, relations and other kind of interactions that can give a closer dimension of the patrimony and reach of a list of persons of interest in the world.
The information was obtained after tracking, among other documents, judicial cases, registers of companies and patrimony of people linked to chavismo in 69 countries, which contributed to build a data base. The initiative of transnational investigation from Transparencia Venezuela in alliance with the Latin American Platform of Journalism CONNECTAS and the Rebel Alliance Investigates (ARI), with the participation of journalists and investigators of Venezuela, Argentina, Panama, Spain, United States, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Bolivia.
Apartment 45C of One57 building in 57 street, one of the most luxurious and expensive in Manhattan, is under the name of Unit 45c Holding LLC, registered in Texas. This property is now on sale – “One57 is where a luxurious life awaits you”, can be read on the announcement – for USD $16 million. It was bought in March 2015 for USD $17.3 million, paid in cash. According to property registers to which Chavismo INC. had access. The company shares address with several others belonging to Roberto Rincón in Texas state, and managed by Maria Lila Rincón.
A group of 25 properties identified in this investigation, were purchased by companies linked to persons of interest. In this group are the own María Lila Rincón and her luxury apartment in Manhattan.; the movie house that a businessman reserved for the ex-purchase analyst of PDVSA, Karina Nuñez; and the ones of contractors Ricardo Morón, Morela Hernández de Morón, Atahualpa Fernández Arbulu, Amir Nassar Tayupe, Naman Wakil and Diego Villarroel Atela.
USA legislation allows buyers to use companies that are not required to be economically active, which makes it easier to hide assets: in many cases is almost impossible to know certainly the origin of the money behind that kind of companies, because buyers can register ghost societies under the name of accountants, lawyers or relatives. Chavismo INC. shows that is it a common modality and very usual in other jurisdictions like Panama. Sometimes purchases are made by groups of investors, which hides even more the origin of funds. To that, it is necessary to add the fact that the directive of any company can change, without having to be reported in the ownership registers of the property. By that, it can be deduced that due to matters of risk and secrecy, many choose that modality. For example, Maria Lila Rincón.
But the use of companies for purchase of properties is not limited to the apartment of New York city. Maria Lila Rincón owns at least two properties in the same building in Brickell, the financial center of Miami city. Both are registered under the name of companies controlled by Rincón and whose common element among the three properties is its registrar.
These purchases of assets were made despite being in the spotlight of north American justice, there is suspicions that Maria Lila Rincón Bravo and her son, José Roberto Rincón Bravo take part of a group of people that collaborated with Magnate Roberto Rincón, husband and father respectively, in the corruption network of which he plead guilty. Even though they have not been accused of any charges, The Justice Department’s suspicion was recorded in judicial documents.
But not only the justice in USA was on the trail of the Rincón-Bravo. In June 2018, Spain authorities detained José Roberto Rincón Bravo and his mother Maria Lila Rincón in a farm outside Madrid – see here -. In the detention, it was evidenced the luxury lifestyle of the businessman family. The Economic and Fiscal Crime Unit (UDEF) of the Spanish National Police and the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office seized high range vehicles, pieces of art, wines and jewelry. UDEF needed to fill 17 pages to reflect before the authorities all the jewelry seized, valued by authorities in 12 million euros, although the Spanish diary El Confidencial estimated that the real value could be trebled. Maria Lila Rincón and her son await for their trial at home. A questionnaire was sent to their lawyers about the raised issues in this investigation and they did not respond.
The benefits of cash
The purchase of properties through companies and paid in cash has made the real-estate market, specially the high end one, to be less transparent every time and attractive to whom wish to hide assets inside United States. Data analyzed by the New York Times reveal that in the last years almost half of the residential purchases of more than USD $5 million were made by ghost companies.
Another case of real estate purchase through firms is the one of the company Luxe Investments Corp., registered in Florida under the name of Diego Alejandro Villarroel Atella. This society is owner of a house valuated in almost USD $3 million, in Pinecrest, Miami city. But ¿who is the real owner? Diego Alejandro Villarroel Atella, a Venezuelan young man, partner of Luis David Chacín Imbrondone, the son of businessman and contractor Luis Chacín Haddad, who is condemned in USA to four years of jail for corruption facts linked to the National Electric Corporation (Corpoelec). In his Facebook profile, Villarroel leaves evidence of a meteoric career: went from selling cellphones and TVs in 2014 to sell and buy dollars, cement and rebars in 2017, till he became contractor of Corpoelec in 2019.
Villarroel and Chacín Imbrondone are partners of Guangzhou Ballac Trading Limited C.A., a company inscribed in National Registry of Contractors (RNC) in Venezuela. According to its website, it offers services of of demolition, recovery, storage, transportation, recycling and container services. Villarroel is also owner of a homonymous company: Guangzhou Ballac Trading Limited, LLC, registered in Florida state and that supplied two compressors type LMF to Corpoelec, according to importation registers from Import Genius data base. The import information reveal that Guangzhou Ballac Trading Limited LLC acted as intermediary between the factory LFM and Corpoelec. Villarroel was contacted by Chavismo INC. but did not respond to the questionnaire sent.
Besides operations like Villaroel’s one, with the purchase of properties through companies, Chavismo INC. evidences the acquisition of real estate through family and partners. On the list there is also Naman Wakil, a former street vendor linked to the area of food in Venezuela. Now he owns properties under the name of companies, under his own name and his wife. Wakil is within all the identified patterns of property purchase in USA. In Venezuela he is known for being the brother in law of former Minister of Food, Carlos Osorio, a General from the Venezuelan Army that controlled for several years the imports of foods to the country, and by the opportunity to obtain contracts with the Venezuelan state thanks to that relationship. Precisely in that sector Wakil made his fortune: he bought cheap meat and poultry in brazil, some of them close to its expiration date and then sold it to the food programs of the state, according to a report from El Pitazo.
A Bloomberg report published in 2019 revealed that Wakil ordered his swiss bankers to transfer USD $5.9 million to relatives of Carlos Osorio, as payment for granting him contracts for sale of meats. Both Wakil and his beneficiaries used accounts in the Compagnie Bancaire Helvetique S.A. (CBH), based in Geneva.
The investigation of the north American media informs that in June 2012, Wakil obtained a contract to supply to Venezuela around 70.000 tons of beef, pasta and cooking oil. For 2015, his personal fortune had reached USD $400 million, according to evidences of global investigation Panama Papers.
Around USD $19 million of that fortune are distributed in 13 properties inside Florida state. Eight of them are registered under companies, five are property of the own Wakil and his wife Ingrid Maria Sayegh Sakka; two in the same building: 951 Brickell Ave., Miami. There is a curious detail in that transaction: they were bought from Atahualpa Fernández Arbulu, a businessman closely linked to the Venezuelan military world, textiles and bottled water. Wakil and Fernández, are also owners of properties in the polemic Porsche Design Tower of Miami, a luxury skyscraper with 60 stories and car elevators, where other Venezuelans related to cases reviewed by the USA justice also had properties. Chavismo INC. contacted Wakil to have his comments about these activities but there was no answer.
A lawyer also a business partner
The name Amir Nassar Tayupe orbits around Alex Saab Morán and Álvaro Pulido, the Colombian businessmen accused of moving money from activities and corruption with housing plans and food in Venezuela. Not only for being his lawyer and who introduced, in the name of Saab and Pulido, the demand against journalists from investigation portal Armando.info; but for being a member of the directive board of Global Foods Tradings, the Panamanian company that, according to the portal, obtained contracts in the food sector with the Venezuelan government for over USD $125 million for supply of soy, corn, rice and wheat.
Nassar Tayupe appears as owner of at least six properties in Florida state, specifically in the cities of Doral and Miami. Together, the half dozen of properties go over USD $2.5 million. Just as Namal Wakil, Nassar Tayupe has made purchases following the patterns identified on the investigation: under the name of companies, sales of properties at a loss and properties under the name of partners or family. The companies used are registered in the state of Florida and most of them are controlled directly by him. In only one he shares the seat on the directive. In Spain also figures his mane associated to a real estate company based in a luxury neighborhood of Madrid, and in Panama appears in two companies, according to the tracking made by Chavismo INC.
Nassar Tayupe shared the directive of Global Foods Tradings with Emmanuel Rubio González, son of Álvaro Pulido, who has been representative of businessmen in other businesses. But additionally, Global Foods Tradings shares address with Saab and Pulido’s company, Group Grand Limited, sanctioned by the Treasury Office of USA and pointed for being part of a corruption network in the sector of food in Venezuela, specifically with the food boxes subsidized by the Venezuelan state, known as Local Committees of Supply and Production (CLAP). In its moment, Nassar Tayupe responded to Armando.info journalists that he assumed a directive position in Global Foods Tradings with posteriority to businesses made by the firm with Nicolás Maduro’s government. For this work, a questionnaire was sent to him, which was not responded to till the end of this edition.
Saab is imprisoned in Cape Verde, a country where his extradition to the United States has already been approved.
The routes of a sanctioned
The documentation reunited by Chavismo INC. also shows that Carlos Erick Malpica Flores’s wife, Damaris Hurtado, was owner of a house between 2012 and 2018, valuated in USD $300.000 and located in Lake Nona, Orlando. The sale documents of the residence coincide with the address of Malpica Hurtado family in Venezuela, La Viña neighborhood, Valencia, Carabobo state.
Malpica Flores is included on the lists of the Treasury Department, same as his aunt Cilia Flores, Maduro´s wife, to whom in Venezuela from power is not called first lady but “first combatant”. Her sons and the own Nicolás Maduro are equally mentioned on the list. Their inclusion is part of a series of actions to fight corruption coming from Venezuela by the United States government that till now has sanctioned 200 persons and entities from Maduro’s environment. Also characters close to the Venezuelan government have been imputed or condemned for crimes of money laundering, drug traffic, bribery, among others.
Efraín Campo Flores and Franqui Flores De Freitas, also nephews of Cilia Flores were condemned to 18 years of prison for drug traffic charges. And more recently, a Reuters report pointed the possibility of something unprecedent in Venezuela: that the own Maduro’s wife could be accused of drug traffic crimes, thanks to information obtained directly from his ex – bodyguard, Yazenky Lamas.
Carlos Erick Malpica Flores could be facing charges before the USA justice for the possible participation in the Money Flight case, a corruption scheme that implied the deviation of USD $1.200 million from the state company Pdvsa. Malpica Flores keeps his life low profile. About his life little is known, although in the business area it was discovered a connection to companies in Panama. About his wife’s life much less in known: the details of her individual account on the Venezuelan Institute of Social Security (IVSS) show that at least till 2009 she was employee of that organism.
That year, Damaris Hurtado and her husband bought the shared time at the Grande Vista hotel, of the Marriott franchise. The contract was made by a minimum amount compared to what the ex- treasurer and finances manager of Pdvsa has handled: 20.000 dollars. That would allow them to enjoy unit 7645 in week 29 every year till year 2056, in Orlando city, Florida.
In March 2017, the hotel introduced a “right to claim” due to the non-payment of USD $1.584. in August the same year, Grande Vista proceeded to confiscate the shared time from the ex-treasurer of the nation. What happened after that supposed a challenge for the USA government, for a minimum price.
Malpica Flores was sanctioned by United States in July 2017 for alleged links to corruption facts in Pdvsa. Documents of the public registers of Florida show that in October 2017 Malpica Flores and his wife, evading the sanctions of Treasury Department, bought again the shared time at the Grande Vista Marriott Hotel with which they circumvented the sanctions.
Chavismo INC. contacted all characters mentioned for this work to know about their version but there was no answer.