The unlimited card of a PDVSA looter: villa in the Caribbean, jewelry, watches and dream hotels

José Luis Zabala is passionate about Ermenegildo Zegna fashion and Louis Vuitton bags. In 2009, this Venezuelan insurance broker spent 219,468 euros in these companies. Another of his passions are watches, especially luxury Swiss watches. For example, he paid 149,900 euros to obtain an exclusive gold copy of a Jaeger-LeCoultre limited edition in 2010.

Zabala's credit cards appeared to have no limits and were fed from a bottomless pit, his million-dollar accounts hidden in Andorra. The analysis of invoices and their banking movements, to which…

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José Luis Zabala is passionate about Ermenegildo Zegna fashion and Louis Vuitton bags. In 2009, this Venezuelan insurance broker spent 219,468 euros in these companies. Another of his passions are watches, especially luxury Swiss watches. For example, he paid 149,900 euros to obtain an exclusive gold copy of a Jaeger-LeCoultre limited edition in 2010.

Zabala's credit cards appeared to have no limits and were fed from a bottomless pit, his million-dollar accounts hidden in Andorra. The analysis of the invoices and his banking transactions, to which EL PAÍS had access, reveals the passion for the good life of this Venezuelan businessman prosecuted since 2018 in the Pyrenean principality for participation in the looting of one of the main energy plants. Latin American public companies, Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA).

Charges on cards and transfers confirm that between 2008 and 2012 – when the oil company theft broke out – Zabala paid more than four million euros on jewelry, hotels and works of art. He also acquired a villa in an exclusive urbanization in the Dominican Republic.

The businessman, who did not work at PDVSA, is on trial in Andorra for his links with one of the members of the plot that looted the state-owned company, Venezuelan insurance magnate Omar Farías.

Zabala, 48, spent 646,000 euros in 2010 alone to accumulate jewelry and watches. In addition to the Jaeger-LeCoultre worth almost 150,000 euros, he acquired an IWC in pink gold the same year for 155,000 euros. From this Swiss house he purchased five other examples, among which also stand out one in platinum of the Big Pilot aviator model (34,445 euros) and another in white gold (18,190 euros). A Parmigiani Kalpa for women, in gold with diamonds and assembled manually, priced at 18,190 euros, is also part of the Zabala collection, which also includes several Patek Philippe pieces. The defendant spent 126,760 euros in the stores of this latest Geneva luxury watch manufacturer.

The jewelry chapter is completed by payments of 20,800 euros for 18-carat gold and diamond earrings; 13,000 euros for a rose gold ring with precious stones and brilliants, and 800 euros for three Cartier pens. Additionally, Zabala spent 27,380 euros at the Wempe jewelry store in Madrid.

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Jewelry invoice paid by Venezuelan insurance broker José Luis Zabala.THE COUNTRY

Art was another refined hobby of Zabala's during PDVSA's years of plundering. 855,000 euros were spent on this chapter. In 2010, the insurance broker paid a total of 370,000 euros for the work. Psychychromia number 507 by the Franco-Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Díez, a work from the Denise René gallery in Paris, which belonged to the Venezuelan intellectual Alfredo Boulton, according to a document from the seller, the Caracas Graphic Art gallery.

Zabala also paid 485,000 euros in 2010 for Lovers, a sculpture modeled in 1985 in bronze by the Colombian Fernando Botero. The piece included a certificate of authenticity signed by the author himself. “Work of my hand,” says the guarantee.

The documents show that the 2011 security corredor has a value of 602,000 euros to own a luxurious villa of 915 meters worth 1.7 million euros in the exclusive urbanization of Cap Cana, in Higüey, a tourist municipality of the Dominican Republic. And that Zabala spent 33,645 euros in 2014 on various repairs to improve the garden of this property called Villa Marina Cap Cana.

Jewelry invoice paid by Venezuelan insurance broker José Luis Zabala.THE COUNTRY

The bill in the hotels and restaurants section was also significant. It amounts to more than 100,000 euros. Even though Zabala had a predilection for staying in establishments of the Marriott International chain (48,500 euros spent) and Mandarin Oriental (27,192) in Cancún (Mexico) and the United States, the businessman's trip of insurance led him to other hotel companies to take advantage of the dream. stay.

Life insurance of 96,000 euros

Their chart records left their mark across the world. In Miami Beach, he passed through the exclusive Bal Harbor shopping center. In Rome, he visited the Eden (10,000 euros) and St. Regis (4,401) hotels. In Madrid, the Villa Magna (5,855) and the Ritz (1,968). And he even visited the emblematic Bellagio (437 euros) in Las Vegas in March 2011. This is revealed by bank transactions which also record payments of 88,358 euros to Corte Inglés, 12,901 euros to Galeries Lafayette and 11 200 euros at the Le Meurice spa in Paris. His life insurance for the period 2011-2012 with the New York Life Insurance Company amounted to 96,000 euros.

Zabala ordered the majority of these payments from Banca Privada d'Andorra (BPA), where he controlled two accounts since 2007. One in his name, which he shares with Ailyn Saireth Meneses Rosillo, and another under the name of the Panamanian company Greentrail International Inc.

The latter was created by the Panamanian company Alcogal, an insatiable producer of companies off the coast for fraudsters all over the planet. In the document known as know your customer (know your client, in English) – a sort of third degree to which the bank subjects its clients to explain the origin of their funds – Zabala presented himself as manager and president of several companies of another of the accused in Andorra for the looting of PDVSA, the insurance entrepreneur Omar Farías.

And he told the financial institution that he had chosen BPA, where he planned to transfer 900,000 euros every two months, for “security and confidentiality”. Andorra remained protected until 2017 by banking secrecy.

Passport of Venezuelan insurance broker José Luis Zabala.THE COUNTRY

Zabala's credit card charges fell on his accounts at BPA. In 2009, he earned 14.6 million. The money came from the instrumental company Highland Assets Corp SA, controlled by Luis Mariano Rodríguez, alleged leader of Diego Salazar, cousin of the former Minister of Energy of Venezuela with Hugo Chávez, president of PDVSA and former ambassador to the UN, Rafael Ramírez. . To justify these payments, the Venezuelan insurance broker presented the bank with a service contract.

Investigators probing the $2 billion looting of the Venezuelan energy company consider the transfer a money laundering mechanism and link it to the looting of the state-owned company. They question the evidence Zabala used before the bank to prove the $1 million payment, allegedly for consulting services. “It is suspicious that this type of service is paid for in one go,” states a confidential report from the Financial Intelligence Unit of Andorra (Uifand) from last February.

EL PAÍS was unable to obtain Zabala's version.

In 2018, an Andorran court prosecuted around 30 people for looting PDVSA, including Zabala, Farías and former Venezuelan Deputy Energy Ministers Nervis Villalobos and Javier Alvarado. Since then, all have been accused of money laundering and bribe-taking for demanding allegedly illegal commissions from companies, including Chinese ones, which were then rewarded with million-dollar rewards from the share of the Venezuelan oil company.

The network operated between 2007 and 2012 and resorted to laundering its loot through a convoluted network of around thirty companies based in tax havens such as Belize or countries protected by banking secrecy, such as Switzerland or Andorra. Money allegedly tainted by corruption from the oil company converged on the deposits of the BPA, an entity intervened in 2015 for participation in alleged laundering of funds from international criminal groups.

investigation@elpais.es

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