The following is a journalistic investigation by “Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity” (Mexicanos contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad – or MCCI). This group that conglomerates multiple journalists from different media outlets has been under constant attack by Mexico´s government since the arrival of president Lopez Obrador.
MEXICO (MCCI) – The persecution against Alex Saab, alleged financial operator of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, led two years ago to the dismantling in Mexico of a network of trafficking in overpriced and poor quality food. However, almost immediately, another network emerged involving shell companies, former Chavista officials accused of corruption and intermediaries operating in tax havens, also linked to the Maduro regime. The following is the story of an unknown plot surrounding the shipment of food supplies to Venezuela.
A new network of companies shipping food from Mexico to Venezuela emerged in the first two years of Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration. Still, it came to an abrupt halt when the United States intervened to dismantle a money-laundering scheme involving Mexican businessmen with Alex Saab, alleged frontman and financial operator for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
An investigation by Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity (Mexicanos contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad – MCCI) identified that between 2019 and 2020, eight Mexican companies based in Nuevo León, Baja California, Zacatecas, Veracruz, Guanajuato, and the metropolitan area of Mexico City used a structure of at least 13 importers created in Hong Kong, Panama, Uruguay, and the British Virgin Islands to send food to Venezuela for an amount of 64 million dollars, equivalent to more than 1.2 billion pesos, according to foreign trade records.
This structure of importers replaced the one managed by financial operators of Chavismo, such as Alex Saab -currently imprisoned in the United States- and Samark López Bello.
Records consulted by MCCI show that between 2016 and 2018, two companies linked to Saab (Group Grand Limited and Asasi Food) and one attributed to López Bello (Postar Intertrade) had intervened in the purchase of food from ten Mexican companies with a value close to 700 million dollars for the Local Supply and Production Committees of Venezuela, better known as the CLAPs.
The three companies suspended operations in 2018 after journalistic investigations evidenced that the food sent from Mexico for the CLAP pantries was of poor quality or sold to the Venezuelan government at an overcharge, in an alleged scheme of corruption, money laundering, and tax evasion.
It was then that a new network of food shipments from Mexico to Venezuela emerged through importers that have been accused of serving as intermediaries for businessmen close to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Vice President Delcy Rodríguez.
Among the Mexican companies that between 2019 and 2020 used that structure of importers are four established in Fresnillo, Zacatecas, Veracruz and the mayor’s office of Iztapalapa, in Mexico City, whose partners have undertaken joint business with Patricia Mundarain Guzmán, accused of having participated in a scheme to divert public funds in Venezuela, and with Esneidy Mayerling Villanueva Medina, wife of former Chavista mayor Jhonnathan Teodoro Marín Sanguino, also accused of corruption in that South American country.
Last August 6, MCCI published that Marín Sanguino had settled in Mexico and, with his wife, created three pharmaceutical and oil companies, one of which has already obtained a contract from the current federal government to supply 361,000 mouth covers to the IMSS.
This second network of food shipments to Venezuela operated until mid-2020 when the US Treasury Department announced that it had initiated an investigation of Mexican companies and businessmen who allegedly formed part of “a secret network” of the Maduro regime to evade sanctions for money laundering.
Following the Treasury Department’s announcement in June 2020, food shipments from Mexico to Venezuela were halted. As a result, in 2021, the network of intermediaries no longer had a single commercial transaction.
Intermediaries at the service of ghost corporations
According to the Venezuelan organization ArmandoInfo (which four years ago revealed the corruption scheme of the food boxes), the companies Mass Joy Industries Limited, Million Rise Industries, and Shinning Capital International, based in Hong Kong, were used by businessmen close to Chavism to obtain millionaire contracts for the supply of food from the Venezuelan government. One of the contracts benefited Yussef Abou, who is romantically linked to Venezuela’s vice-president.
The three Hong Kong companies intervened in 2018 in alleged food shipments worth US$30 million from B-Eminent Inc, a Baja California company that the Tax Administration Service (SAT) has identified as a “ghost” or simulated operations.
This network of importers was not only used for simulated “invoicing” operations. It was also used by other companies, such as Integradora de Productores del Estado de México (IPEM) and Empacadora Abeto SA de CV. In addition, their shareholders have established business partnerships with Venezuelan Patricia Mundarain and Mayerling Villanueva, linked to accusations of corruption in their country of origin.
In 2019, the companies Comercializadora y Productora de Semillas Veracruzana SA de CV and Empacadora y Comercializadora de Granos del País, both linked to IPEM and Abeto, with whom they have shared partners, administrators and attorneys-in-fact, joined the shipment of food to Venezuela.
Between 2019 and 2020, those four related companies exported food to Venezuela for 39 million dollars, according to customs operations records.
IPEM was the company that reported the most significant amount of exports to Venezuela that period, with more than 12 million dollars. Through the importers Worldwide Food and Valor del Campo, from Panama; Mass Joy, Jetsky Trading, Million Rise, Shinning Capital, and Harrow Industries, from Hong Kong, as well as B-Eminent Inc, from Mexico, the latter identified by the SAT as an “invoicing” (fake invoices) company.
A similar amount was exported by Empacadora y Comercializadora de Granos del País, through Garfield Trading and Shinning Capital of Hong Kong and Megalco, of Venezuela.
Customs reports show that Semillas Veracruzana used Worldwide Food and Agrostar Supply as intermediaries, while Empacadora Abeto used Shinning Capital, Jetsky Trading, Internacional de Productos, Verlimax, and La Jacinta, the latter two from Uruguay.
In the list of food exporters between 2019 and 2020, there are also dairy, grain, and grocery companies from Nuevo León and Guanajuato, as is the case of Alpacking, located in the municipality of Apodaca, which sent dairy products to Venezuela for 8.6 million dollars with the intermediation of Garfield Trading, from Hong Kong.
As of 2019, more intermediaries emerged between Mexico and Venezuela, to more than a dozen, among them Garfield Trading Limited of Hong Kong; Agrostar Supply Corp. of the British Virgin Islands; La Jacinta and Verlimax SA, the latter two from Uruguay.
The Panama Connection
Integradora de Productores del Estado de México (IPEM) was created in April 2011 and is based in the municipality of Tres Valles, Veracruz, where it has a rice production plant. Its website mentions that it also has a bean processing plant in Fresnillo, Zacatecas, a distribution center in Mexico City, and a food assembly plant in the port of Veracruz.
The director of IPEM is Óscar Francisco Sandoval Nieves, who has stakes in at least three companies created in Panama between 2017 and 2019: Integradora PANAM-México, Thalesis Holding Group and E.G.S. El Gigante de Sudamérica.
In that last company, he is associated with Patricia José Mundarain Guzmán, a Venezuelan citizen identified by her country’s press as a fugitive from justice, for being implicated in the alleged embezzlement of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) through shell companies.
According to publications in Venezuelan media, citing information from the Public Prosecutor’s Office, Servicios y Construcciones Amunsa C.A., owned by Mundarain Guzmán, is one of the companies that received contracts and allegedly offered overpriced services.
His sister Leddys Mundarain, the Contracting Manager of the Ayacucho Division, from where she benefited companies with contracts, is also linked to this scheme.
Links with pharmaceutical and oil companies in Mexico
Iliana Sandoval Nieves, sister of IPEM’s director, has also had business links with Mundarain through the company Neurova Life, which in March of this year received a contract by a direct contract to supply from the Federal Government 361 thousand face-masks to the IMSS.
Neurova Life is a drug and medical supplies trading company created in April 2020 in Mexico City, in which Mundarain holds the position of Commissioner. The shareholders of this company are Iliana Sandoval Nieves and Esneidy Mayerling Villanueva Medina, wife of Jhonnathan Teodoro Marín Sanguino, a former Chavista mayor with an arrest warrant in his country.
Marín Sanguino was Mayor of the port city of Guanta and fled in 2017 from his country amid a corruption scandal in Venezuela’s oil company, which resulted in an arrest warrant issued in February 2019. He was also disqualified in 2020 from holding public office for 15 years for embezzlement during his term as Mayor.
The wife of this Venezuelan politician created in 2020 another company in Mexico City: Geopetsa Servicios Petroleros. Her countrywoman Patricia Mundarain also appears as general director and secretary of the Board of Directors.
Segalmex’s false invoices and shady contracts
Empacadora Abeto is a subsidiary of IPEM, which since 2017 exported food to Venezuela, and in which the siblings Óscar Francisco and María Iliana Sandoval Nieves also participate.
In official documents of operations and subsidies, it reports having addresses in Fresnillo, Zacatecas, and Iztapalapa, in Mexico City.
The Federal Superior Audit Office (ASF) report on SAGARPA support, corresponding to the 2011 Public Account, states that Empacadora Abeto received subsidies for 13.8 million pesos and presented 41 allegedly false electronic invoices for the commercialization of thousands of tons of beans.
Empacadora y Comercializadora de Granos del País and Comercializadora y Productora de Semillas Veracruzana are two other companies linked to IPEM and Abeto. The first was created in June 2000 in Fresnillo, Zacatecas, by the Sandoval Nieves brothers. The second was established in January 2018 in Veracruz. The minutes’ list César Arturo Rojo Sandoval as the majority shareholder and sole administrator, who in his Linkedin profile claims to be the sales director of Empacadora Abeto.
According to official documents, Rojo Sandoval had previously been the legal representative of Fruverloz, a company accused by the ASF of an alleged diversion of public funds for 35 million pesos, in a contract signed in 2019 with Segalmex.
MCCI revealed in a report published last July 19 that Fruverloz is part of a network operated by an “invoicer.” Between 2019 and 2020, received almost 800 million pesos in contracts from Segalmex, during the management of the then director of Administration and Finance, René Gavira Segreste, who was dismissed in June last year amid accusations of corruption.
The Yucatan Times