The dismantling, in Mexico, of an international network that sold and shipped low-quality food to Venezuela can be added to the string of corruption investigations and accusations surrounding the largest food assistance program of President Nicolás Maduro’s government.
On October 18, the Mexican Attorney General’s Office announced the dismantling of a criminal structure made up of Venezuelan and Mexican businesspeople that sold food at marked-up prices for its system of Local Provision and Production Committees (Comités Locales de Abastecimiento y Producción – CLAP). The Venezuelan government uses CLAPs to distribute subsidized food to its citizens.
Alonso Israel Lira Sala, Mexico’s Deputy Attorney General specializing in organized crime, described three mechanisms that the people in the network used.
“Acquire low-quality products, export them to Venezuela at marked-up prices, resell them through the CLAP to the Venezuelan population at 112% more than the real cost.”
ATENCIÓN: @PGR_mx desmanteló red de empresas y particulares mexicanos a las que el Gobierno de Maduro compraba alimentos de baja calidad y con sobreprecio, para vendérselos en cajas CLAP a los venezolanos 112% más caro del costo real. pic.twitter.com/vgAfUiEbkB
— Gabriel Bastidas (@Gbastidas) October 18, 2018
Meanwhile, Mexico's attorney general recently reached an agreement whereby those responsible for the fraud would pay $3 million to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to assist Venezuelan migrants. They also agreed to stop conducting business with the Venezuelan government related to the import of food or medicine for the CLAP program.
The Venezuelan government reacted to the Mexican authorities’ announcement via press release where Maduro defended the businesspeople involved and questioned the investigation, describing it as a “false positive.” He insisted that the “Mexican right” would not intimidate those who do business with Venezuela.
InSight Crime Analysis
What happened in Mexico is one in a flurry of blows that the region’s governments have been dealing to the international criminal mafia structures that have infiltrated Venezuela’s CLAP system. The first reports surfaced through a Venezuelan digital media outlet called Armando.Info. It investigated and verified the existence of a multi-country corruption network operating out of a Hong Kong conglomerate called Group Grand Limited. Nations affected by the network include Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Spain, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
The investigation also revealed the participation of Colombian magnates Álvaro Pulido Vargas and Alex Naim Saab Morán, who may be partners with Maduro in the CLAP “business,” as reported by former Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega.
Information on the two businessmen coincides with the partial identification of the members of the corruption network that Mexican authorities made public. Pulido has already been investigated for drug trafficking, while Saab is currently a fugitive from the Colombian justice system and is under investigation for laundering up to $125 million. US and Israeli authorities have also alleged that Saab has connections to Hezbollah.
The Mexican Attorney General’s Office stated that it will share its findings with authorities in other countries in order to verify additional acts of corruption connected with the CLAP system, making it likely that the final blow against corrupt elites looking to profit illegally off of Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis is yet to come.