Joint Investigation Reveals Further Role of Cuban Officials in Offshore Schemes

Saturday, May 14, 2016
Cuban Officials in Panama Papers

Leaked data reveals the existence of dozens of businesses associated with senior figures.

*By Reporters in Cuba

Officials from Cuba’s Communist party used a Swiss lawyer to establish offshore companies for their global business activities, the so-called Panama Papers have revealed.

The unprecedented leak of 11.5 million tax documents from the Mossack Fonseca law firm in Panama exposed the offshore holdings and financial transactions of heads of state, officials and celebrities around the world.

Although Cuban law does not include any specific legislation on state officials and offshore interests, such dealings are frowned upon in the strictly communist country.

The Panama Papers revealed that Albert-Louis Dupont Willemin, a lawyer from an aristocratic Swiss family, was a high-level legal advisor and intermediary for more than 20 offshore companies with business ties to Cuba.

Also see Cuban Officials in Panama Papers - supporting documents (PDF).

Dupont Willemin, who also serves as the honorary consul of Guatemala in Geneva, created two offshore companies located in the British Virgin Islands through registered agent Mossack Fonseca - Curtdale Investments Limited and Ardpoint Company Inc.

Dupont Willemin’s office said that he had no interest in commenting on this matter.

Hernán Aguilar Parra, a member of the Cuban Assembly of People’s Power, is listed in the Panama Papers as director of both companies. Parra left office last November 2015, a year after the 2014 general elections.

According to the leaked data, the offshore companies are associated with the Tabacuba Business Group, a state company that owns all production and marketing of Cuban tobacco. Parra also served as Tabacuba director until 2015, and is now believed to have left the tobacco sector.

“Deputies [of the Cuban Assembly] have restrictions,” a spokesman for the legal aid charity the Cubalex Center for Legal Information said. “The role of deputies is ad honores [not seeking any reward] and cannot be used for personal benefit. It is one of the duties established by the law.”

“The law does not impose managers or directors of companies prohibition against establishing relations with private companies,” the spokesman continued.

“But it would not be viewed favourably if a state official, taking advantage of his function of office, establishes trade relations with private companies.”

Tabacuba’s former production director, Inocente Osvaldo Encarnación, was also linked to the offshore Ardpoint Company Inc. During a telephone interview, Osvaldo Encarnación confirmed that he was a shareholder in a company but refused to give its name. He declined to comment on any links to Ardpoint.

The Mossack Fonseca records were obtained by the German publication Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with colleagues from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

OFFSHORE INTERESTS

Although the leaked data does not indicate any specific crime or breach of the law, it gives an intriguing insight into a web of relations.

Corporación Panamericana, based in Havana, is the entity responsible for providing Mossack Fonseca’s services to Cuban companies. According to the papers, Cuban lawyer Katiuska Penado Moreno has been the corporation’s legal representative.

In a brief phone interview, Penado Moreno said she “currently” had no links to Mossack Fonseca or Corporación Panamericana.

Penado Moreno's name appeared on the Panama Papers in connection with four offshore companies: Miramar Investment Corporation Ltd., Mercaria Trading, Caribbean Sugar Trader and Sanford Financial Management.

Penado Moreno was listed as the beneficial owner  - a legal term where specific property rights belong to one person even though the legal title belongs to another. Dupont Willemin was listed as director of the four companies.

Through Mossack Fonseca, Dupont Willemin founded Racuza SA, a firm offering computers, peripherals and software to the Cuban market.

The general director of foreign investment of the ministry of foreign trade, Déborah Rivas Saavedra, was listed in the Panama Papers as Racuza’s director. She also appears as director of Miramar Investment Ltd and Caribbean Sugar Trader.

After two days trying to reach Rivas Saavedra, her office directed enquiries to Roberto Berrier Castro, director of the Center for the Promotion of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment. He said that he had no information on the matter.

Among Racuza’s deputy directors are José L Fernández de Cossío, Cuba’s former ambassador to Japan, as well as Porfirio Medero Paiva and Hermes Vaillant, two Cuban lawyers working for Panamericana.

Paiva, Cossío, and Vaillant are also listed as directors of Miramar Investment Corporation and Caribbean Sugar Trader.

It was not possible to locate any of them for comment.

The Panama Papers gave an insight into the legal arrangements between the Cuban government and Mossack Fonseca.

International Legal Consultancy (CJI) is a Cuban law firm that provides legal assistance and advice to individuals and corporations.

It is also a legal partner of Mossack Fonseca, and became the main agent between it and the Cuban government in charge of providing legal services.

When contacted, CJI directed enquiries to lawyer René de Jesús Burguet Rodríguez, whose name also appeared in an email exchange between CJI and Mossack Fonseca. No response was received by the time of publication.

The leaked data included other links between officials and offshore companies.

The Union of Investigations and Water Projects is a consultancy service of the National Institute for Hydraulic Resources (INRH), the government institution in charge of hydraulic and sewer networks on the island.

The Union was listed as a shareholder in Técnica Hidráulica, an offshore company located in the British Virgin Islands and created through Corporación Panamericana. The company – owned by a Cuba-based INRH trade company called Técnica Hidráulica SA - operated until 2015 when, according to the Panama Papers, it was dissolved.

CJI was in charge, according to a contract, of representing the legal affairs of Técnica Hidráulica SA’s offshore companies, managed by Mossack Fonseca.

The Panama Papers revealed that Wilfredo Leyva Armesto, also known as William Leyva, was director of Técnica Hidráulica. Leyva could not be reached for comment.

A spokesperson at the Cuban parliament said that they could not answer any questions related to the Panama Papers.

*This work is a collaborative project of the Czech Center for Investigative Journalism, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Cuban freelance journalists, Cubanet and Diario de Cuba. 

Kerry Shills for Iran With European Bankers, Cuba Demands Same

Friday, May 13, 2016
This week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Europe to reassure bankers who seek to do business with Iran.

We kid you not.

Kerry traveled to London, where he met with senior executives from leading European banks, including Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Credit Suisse, to assuage their concerns about doing business with Iran.

"We want to make it clear that legitimate business [with Iran], which is clear under the definition of the agreement, is available to banks," Kerry told them.

Thus, like clockwork, Cuba's regime is now demanding similar VIP treatment from the Obama Administration.

Yesterday, in announcing an umpteenth round of U.S.-Cuba (empty) talks, senior Cuban Foreign Ministry official Gustavo Machin (who was expelled from the U.S. in 2002 for espionage activities) emphasized the Castro regime's latest demand.

He demanded the Obama Administration give assurances for banks to deal with Cuba.

"It has still not been possible to normalize banking relations between the two countries, and among American banks and multinational banks there is a still much fear of dealing with Cuba. [Obama's authorization of dollar transactions] needs to be accompanied by a strong statement, a political statement, or even a legal tool, which ensures banks that they are not going to be punished for dealing with Cuba," said Machin.

After all, this is the biggest pushover U.S. Administration ever.

Aznar: Obama's Policy Has Legitimized Castros

I think [the Obama Administration] lost an opportunity to condition the reestablishment [of relations]. There has been an non-existent, or very low level, of conditions [demands], which have allowed a legitimization of the Castro regime internationally -- a legitimization of the policies of the Castro brothers, which I do not view as positive.
-- Jose Maria Aznar, former Spanish President, during Concordia-Summit on The Americas conference at Miami-Dade College (MDC), El Nuevo Herald, May 13, 2016

Senate Panel Prohibits Cuba's Participation in Joint Military Exercises

Brazil Likely to Shutdown Cuban Financial Spigot

Cuba's two biggest benefactors -- Venezuela and Brazil -- are on a downward spiral, which means billions in revenue for the Castro regime.

Further highlights the awful timing of Obama's bailout.

From Reuters:

Rousseff's fall in Brazil casts cloud on Cuba

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s suspension from office is bad news for newly trendy Cuba, which despite a detente with Washington is feeling the pinch from a downturn ravaging allies' economies and political fortunes in South America and Africa.

Friends such as Venezuela, Brazil and Angola for years used revenue from a commodities boom to pay for Cuban medical and educational services, turning it into the communist-run island’s main source of hard currency.

President Raul Castro's detente with the United States has helped drive up tourism to record highs but income from the influx of foreign visitors were only about one-third of the $7 billion from health and education exports in 2014.

Over the last 13 years, Brazil's leftist governments also provided at least $1.75 billion in credit on favorable terms, drawing fire from opponents who are also angered by a program that put 11,400 Cuban doctors to work in Brazil.

Those projects will now be re-examined after Brazil’s Senate voted on Thursday to put Rousseff on trial for breaking budget laws. She is now suspended from office while the trial takes place in coming months, and a likely conviction would end her presidency.

"There will be a short-term review of our Cuba policy, because the money has run out and because there are some serious governance questions regarding the loans. Everything will be put on hold,” said a Brazilian diplomat who served in Havana.

Some of Brazil's loans bankrolled a major expansion project at Cuba's Mariel port with 25-year repayment periods and rates of between 4.4 percent to 6.9 percent, Brazilian data shows. Critics say the terms are too generous given Cuba's poor credit history.

Support from a bloc of leftist governments in Latin America since the turn of the century helped Cuba get back on its feet after the collapse of the Soviet Union caused a massive economic crisis in the 1990s. Improving relations with the United States and Europe hold the promise of new revenue, but for now Cuba's economy will suffer as the tide turns against allies.

Panama Papers Reveal Cuban-Linked Offshore Accounts

Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Yesterday, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released a database of offshore entities created by the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, one of the world’s top creators of hard-to-trace secret companies, anonymous trusts and foundations.

The database contains thirteen entities with links to the Castro regime.

They include Amadis Compañia Naviera SA, B.B. Naft Trading SA, Pescatlan SA, Acepex Management SA, Seagulls and Seafoods SA, Comercail Mercadu SA, Travelnet LTD, Resimevis Limited, Mavis Group SA, Tecnica Hidraulica SA, Octagon Industrial LTD, Corporacion Panamericana SA and Labiofam SA.

Ironically, Labiofam S.A. is one of the Castro regime's pharmaceutical companies from where they market various cancer "miracle drug" scams.

Meanwhile, Corporacion Panamericana SA, is a subsidiary of Castro's GECOMEX (Grupo Empresarial del Comercio Exterior), led by Cuba's Minister of Foreign Commerce, Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz.

Malmierca Diaz, a senior Cuban intelligence official in charge of foreign trade and investment for the Castro regime, is a favorite of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Cuba Business Council.

The database also contains eighteen individuals linked to the Castro regime.

It features Victor Moro Suarez, head of the Association of Spanish Businessmen in Cuba; Inocente Osvaldo Encarnacion, director of Tabacuba; Alejandro Gutierrez Madrigal, commercial attache of the Cuban Embassy in London; and Wilfredo Leyva Armesto, director of the Institute of Hydraulic Resources.

Others named are Rolando Diaz Gonzalez, Orlando Romero Merida, Armando Rosales Fernandez, Paola Perticone, Jeroen J. Van Der Lip, Atilio Enrique Wagner, Antonio Gonzalez Checa, Forconi Ignacio Miguel Raul, Katiuska Penado Moreno, Lorenzo Paciello, Wael Bassatina, Ramon Chavez Gutierrez, Miriam Prieto and Jose Luis Baena Carrion.

Family of Ladies in White Activist Attacked, Husband Near Death

This past Sunday, Rosa Escalona, a member of Cuba's Ladies in White, and her family were violently beaten by agents of the Castro regime in the eastern city of Holguin.

Escalona's husband, Alberto Pedro Freire Leiva, suffered a broken spleen and massive internal bleeding. His life currently hangs in the balance.

Meanwhile, her son, Yunior Alberto Freire Escalona, suffered a skull fracture.

She made the following statement by telephone (via Cuban Democratic Directorate):

Yesterday I was detained as I was heading to church. I was once again threatened by members of the State Security who stated that they would 'finish with me and my family.' Two men came out of Lenin Hospital with iron bars and proceeded to attack us. My 25 year old son’s head was broken in two places and he received a skull fracture, my two small sons received blows throughout their bodies and I sustained direct blows to my ribs and a head. My husband, Alberto Pedro Freire Leiva, is currently in grave condition and it is not known if he will survive. His spleen was broken in two places and as a result, he has had massive internal bleeding with more than 1,000 millimeters of blood throughout his abdomen. My son, Yunior Alberto Freire Escalona, is under observation in neurosurgery where he might need to be operated. During the attack, one of the men disclosed knowing that I was a member of the 'Ladies in White' and a counter revolutionary, he warned me to be very careful of him because when he catches me on the street again he will run me and my sons over with a truck.”

Below is a picture of Escalona during one The Ladies in White's Sunday marches.

Do these peaceful women pose such a threat to Castro's regime that they are treated so violently?

Where's the U.S. Embassy or the international pressure Obama's new policy was supposed to procure?

Iranian Foreign Minister Visits Cuba, Russia Hails Cuban Spies

This week, in cringe-worthy geopolitical news, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will visit Cuba, along with stops in Venezuela, Brazil, Nicaragua and Bolivia.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gave a hero's welcome to five Cuban agents convicted by U.S. federal courts of espionage and conspiracy to murder Americans.

Three of these spies had their sentences commuted as part of Obama's deal with Raul Castro -- a "negotiation" led in secret by Ben Rhodes (see here).

Lavrov called the Cuban spies "a symbol of fortitude and resistance".

He then stated how Russia played a role in their release:

"We met earlier with some of your comrades, and I am very glad that now all of you are visiting Moscow. We had been consistently pressing (for your release), including in our contacts with the Americans, and we are glad that in the long run our participation in your release turned out to be useful and yielded results."

Perhaps Rhodes has more explaining to do.

Ben Rhodes and Cuba

Monday, May 9, 2016
Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser (and foreign policy alter-ego) Ben Rhodes has been the subject of intense criticism since last week's New York Times profile (see here and here), which highlighted his inexperience, arrogance and lies.

This morning, Rhodes, a former fiction novelist, defended himself from criticism over his manipulation of the Iran deal by arguing that the negotiations were never secret and that he played a supporting role to senior diplomats, including John Kerry, Wendy Sherman and Bill Burns.

Both arguable points, as many facts were hidden from the American people and, as former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and others have revealed, Rhodes was (more than) a gatekeeper to Obama in the deal.

However, the negotiations that were unarguably secret and which Rhodes led, were the 18-month talks with Cuba's regime in Ottawa, Toronto and Rome.

Rhodes led these negotiations, which kept senior U.S. diplomats in the dark. His counter-part on the Cuban side was Raul Castro's son, Fidel's protege and senior Ministry of the Interior official, Col. Alejandro Castro.

In other words, Obama's young, inexperienced, prep-school fiction writer, which is defined by his colleagues in the NYT profile as "having no poker face", led the negotiation versus some of the most seasoned and manipulative intelligence officials in the world.

Since then, any senior State Department diplomats who have expressed caution or concern have been marginalized by Rhodes. Meanwhile, concerns over the legality of certain measures by career Treasury officials have been overruled by Rhodes.

As The Washington Post's Chuck Lane astutely tweeted: "One thought apropos NYT Ben Rhodes profile: Raul Castro, and his son (Rhodes negotiating partner), eat people like this for breakfast."

And indeed they did.

Regardless how you feel about sanctions, it's indisputable that the Obama Administrations (led by Rhodes) got rolled by the Castro regime.

The talks were coerced by the taking of an American hostage (development worker Alan Gross) and, in exchange, the Obama Administration has given, given, given, and keeps giving -- while getting nothing in return (other than Gross).

Castro got three convicted spies back (including one serving a life sentence for the murder of Americans); removed from the state-sponsors of terrorism list (while still harboring terrorists, including one of the FBI's Most Wanted); diplomatic recognition (short of Vienna Convention standards); eased travel sanctions (for Castro's military-owned tourism monopolies); access to international dollar transactions (to shuffle illicit gains); stolen trademark recognition (to continue encouraging larceny); a two-year pass for stealing a U.S. Hellfire missile (shared with our foes); and international legitimacy (that has resulted in over $30 billion in foreign debt relief).

And the Cuban people? They are getting record-numbers of political arrests, a migration crisis, less economic reforms, tenfold religious persecution, over 200 demolished churches and a new generation of Castros (blessed by the Obama Administration) in control.

Oh, not to mention Chanel and the Kardashians mocking Cubans' repression and misery.

Great job, Ben.

Kim Jong-Un Follows Raul's Lead

Over the weekend, North Korea's dictator, Kim Jong-Un, followed General Raul Castro's lead.

He held a Worker's Party Congress, where announced a new five-year economic plan, but no political reforms.

Kim also took Raul's fashion advice and wore a business suit.

He also got some Cuban-style media spin.

As CNN reported, "In recent years, there have been signs of a modest economic recovery here in Pyongyang, the capital. There is more traffic, restaurants, and consumer items such as smartphones, electronics, and fashionable clothing."

Sound like Havana -- or better!

Clearly, the secret is out among the world's worst dictators that if you wear a business suit and babble about the economy, Obama will awash you in political legitimacy and sanctions relief.

Priceless in Cuba

By Enrique del Risco (translation by Lourdes Cosio) in Babalu Blog:

- Eight thousand executions
- Tens of thousands of prisoners
- Tens of thousands drowned in the Florida Straits
- More than two million emigrants
- Millions of families torn apart, destroyed
- 80% of the country living for decades below the extreme poverty level
- Billions of hours spent in marches, volunteer work, international missions, African adventures, construction of tunnels and trenches and some of the ugliest buildings in the world
- Millions of dollars in credits, loans, gifts, shipments of fuel
- An excessive and incessant display of every kind of human vileness, betrayal, deceit, self-deception, and humiliation

All to freeze an island in time so that tourists from around the world can take a picture in a convertible.

There are things in life that are priceless.

For everything else, there is MasterCard.