April 23, 2008
Venezuela now has its own domestic "Suitcasegate." An individual who attempted to smuggle on board a flight leaving Caracas' Simon Bolivar International Airport $400m in bonds issued by the Central Bank of Venezuela, in a suitcase, was arrested by the authorities, and the assets seized. He was seeking to travel to Rome on a Portugese passport that the authorities believe is counterfeit. The "bagman," who spoke Spanish with a pronounced Colombian accent, has not yet been identified by Venezuelan law enforcement authorities. Organised crime activity? You bet it is.
Whilst the bonds themselves have not yet been identified, they are most likely Venezuelan Benchmark 9.25% bonds, maturing in 2027, and currently trading on global financial markets.
This incident, even with the minimum amount of detail released to date, is very disturbing:
* When one individual possesses such a large amount of these bonds, it indicates that there is a total and complete lack of governmental control over its own issued financial instruments. How can it be that an individual, whose very identity is bogus, can obtain such portable wealth? Only when there is corruption on an absolute level can such transactions occur. Is the Central Bank of Venezuela guilty of gross negligence? we cannot say, but at the very least, a major governmental enquiry is called for here. Don't hold your breath, though, in an environment noted for corruption at the highest official level, according to most experts.
* Why was this individual flying to Rome, you ask? The longstanding and lucrative criminal activities of the Sicilian Mafia in Venezuela, involving the shipment of narcotics to Italy, for ultimate sale, by the Mafia, to satisfy the growing European appetite for drugs, probably figures into this case somewhere.
* Alternatively, is the $400m in bonds traveling via a major money laundering pipeline for Colombian Cartel narco-profits, en route to European, or even Asian, financial institutions, having been so thoroughly cleansed that it can now survive both Source of Funds and customer identification procedures?
These are all serious questions; let us hope more details emerge in this unfolding scandal, enabling us to untangle the puzzle a bit more. Whatever the truth turns out to be, whoever is in command of the Venezuelan financial structure has some major explaining to do.