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Latin America

Venezuela requests extradition of former officials close to Chávez, but Spanish police say they don't have them

The former chief of security at the Presidential Palace, Adrián Velásquez, and his wife Claudia Díaz, the nation’s ex-Treasurer, featured in the Panama Papers scandal involving the law firm Mossack Fonseca. They are suspected of embezzling public funds and stashing money in tax havens.
10 Abr 2018 – 01:26 PM EDT
Adrián Velásquez and his wife Claudia Díaz with some of the documents of their companies in tax havens Crédito: ICIJ/Univision

Two former Venezuelan officials, Claudia Diaz Guillen and Adrián Velásquez, who were named in the Panama Papers financial corruption scandal have been arrested in Spain, the Venezuelan government announced late Monday.

However, Spanish national police sources told Univision that Díaz and Velásquez are not detained.

The pair served in the government of the late president Hugo Chávez and were linked to an alleged embezzlement and money laundering scheme exposed by Univision Noticias as part of the Panama Papers investigation coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

Venezuela's Attorney general Tarek William Saab, made the announcement on his Twitter acount.

Velásquez was Chávez head of security and his wife, Díaz Guillén, his wife, was his nurse before being named the country's Treasurer and also led the National Fund for National Development (FONDEN). It was shown that they opened accounts in Swiss banks and tax havens and moved from Venezuela.

After the Panama papers revelation, Venezuelan officials raided their home in Caracas as well as other properties and arrested some of their relatives.

In another tweet, the prosecutor explained that "innumerable" financial transactions had raised suspicions of illicit enrichment that required them to explain their actions to Venezuelan officials.

"We ask Spain for the immediate delivery of both citizens so that they are finally prosecuted in our country according to our current legislation," he added.

Spanish officials have not responded to a request from Univision for confirmation of the arrests.

Panama connection

According to the investigation, Velasquez sought in 2013 the services of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca to create paper companies to hide money in tax havens.

During her tenure as Treasurer, Díaz Guillén managed public funds including income from the state oil company, PdVSA and all freign currency held in the state banking system in the midst of a strict exchange control regime put in place in 2003. This restriction allowed some people close to the Chávez government access to dollars at preferential rates, which they were then able to change on the black market.

After leaving public office, the couple sought the services of the Panamanian law firm and moving to the Dominican Republic.

Leaked documents from Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm at the center of the Panama Papers investigation, showed that Velásquez and Díaz hired the firm to set up companies in the Seychelles, Switzerland and Panama.

The correspondence between the Panama law firm and Velásquez came to light thanks to a massive documents leak to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which recruited the help of the ICIJ. More than 300 reporters from all parts of the world spent months pouring over the documents.