Fifteen months after Maria Corina Machado accused the British Virgin Islands of shielding the vice president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, from international justice in exchange for a $43 million bribe, the case faces a new set of complications, including a remanded witness’s transfer to the U.S.
The British Virgin Islands (BVI) government handed over a video recording in the course of a trial on corruption charges in Venezuela, after it had previously disclosed the contents of the recording, which allegedly incriminated a high-ranking local official involved in the international extraction of oil in Venezuela. The move came after U.S. federal agents served subpoenas on the defendants in the case.
The British Virgin Islands’ top prosecutor, Tom Hart, argued that his country “cannot compel such a witness to appear for trial and not be compelled to answer questions,” according to a June 21 press release. Mr. Hart said the recording was irrelevant and therefore could not be considered by his office, nor could it be made part of the trial proceedings.
Former Brazil energy minister Sergio Augusto de Moura de Oliveira — a former Venezuelan state oil company official — was one of the defendants and was ordered to surrender to the U.S. on the U.S. courts’ instructions.
Britain’s Foreign Office slammed the BVI’s handling of the case and accused it of “undermining its international obligations.”
The case has unfolded in recent months against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s efforts to punish Venezuela in response to its crackdown on political opponents and the electoral mismanagement of a constitutional referendum, an increase in hyperinflation and an attempt to remove the country’s Supreme Court.
Struggling under hyperinflation of some 4,000 percent, the nation has been in the hands of a single leader, Nicolás Maduro, who has attempted to bring the struggling oil industry back to health.
He removed the company’s executive of 15 years, Eulogio Del Pino — a former employee of the U.S. Halliburton — this year after accusing him of “insolvency” with excessive housing costs. Mr. Del Pino, an openly gay man and one of Venezuela’s “last survivors” from a previous era, had failed to pay his housing bills, which to many seemed proof of his privileged lifestyle and environmental ruin.
He then replaced Mr. Del Pino with a new face, who was installed by the Maduro regime’s ally, Russia, although the company denied the alleged change in management.
The top U.S. prosecutor in the northern district of Texas, Geoffrey Berman, told reporters in January that the company has “gone to great lengths to prevent transparency and accountability.” He also said that the business is “used as a vehicle for corruption” and a “guilty party in a shakedown.”
Mr. Del Pino has denied any wrongdoing.
Mr. Del Pino’s ties to the British Virgin Islands date back to his time in senior management at PDVSA, the Venezuelan state-owned oil company. As an oil trader in 2002, he took advantage of an administrative loophole in tax laws in the BVI to acquire natural gas fields in a very expensive deal, which he turned over to PDVSA.
In 2005, he pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court to a single count of making a false statement to the Federal Reserve and received a one-year prison sentence.
Corina Machado, the former legislator who lodged the formal complaint against the BVI, said “the BVI gives comfort and protection” to officials accused of corruption by U.S. authorities, and called the case a “classic example of corruption.”
More on the 2016 investigation.
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