The $10 Million Shakedown: Rafael Ramírez Sued Over Speed Money

Original art by @modográfico

AP’s Joshua Goodman — who’s been on quite a streak lately — has yet another twist in the schadenfreude-rich demise of Rafael Ramírez. Two companies, Harvest Natural Resources, Inc. and HNR Energia B.V., have brought a civil suit against Ramírez, his disgraced protegée Eulogio del Pino, “consultant” José Mendoza García and three maletín-based companies related to Mendoza García: Petro Consultores (cool name!), S.C., Petro Consultores International Trading Company, Inc., Azure 904 LLC.

Harvest alleges that the defendants solicited a $10 million dollar bribe from the company in 2013. Back then, Harvest intended to sell its stake in empresa mixta Petrodelta, S.A. to Indonesia’s state-owned oil company, Pertamina. Under Venezuelan law, private shareholders of empresas mixtas, such as Harvest at the time, need authorization from the Oil Ministry to sell its shares to a third party. Harvest claims that Ramírez and his middlemen used their power to extort them:

In the new lawsuit, Harvest Natural Resources alleges that starting in 2012, it refused a $10 million bribe demand from a Florida-based oil consultant who said he was acting in the name of Ramírez, then PDVSA’s president and Venezuela’s Oil Minister. The company had reached an agreement to sell its stake in a joint venture with PDVSA for $725 million to Indonesia’s state-owned Pertamina.

Harvest claims that as a result of its refusal to pay up, Ramírez failed to approve the sale and the deal fell through. The complaint cited press reports in which Ramirez was quoted as saying that Venezuela was still analyzing the proposed sale and that ‘both the buyer and seller know what they need to do in order to obtain government approval…’

Harvest also says that Ramírez thwarted a second attempt to sell shares to Argentine oil company Pluspetrol. This was, allegedly, in retaliation for not paying a “bonus” requested by Del Pino:

In 2013, Harvest says, it found another buyer, Argentina’s Pluspetrol, but was once again blocked by a similar pay-to-play scheme, the complaint charges. Ramírez’s successor as PDVSA chief, Eulogio del Pino, sent a letter to Harvest in which he allegedly called for payment of a ‘bonus’ to the Oil Ministry, then headed by Asdrúbal Chávez, a cousin of Venezuela’s late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.

But who’s behind Harvest in the first place? Information available online information shows that Harvest Natural Resources, Inc. was incorporated in Houston in 1988, and it has only 16 employees. They signed an operating agreement with PDVSA in 1992, replaced by the creation of Petrodelta in 2006, following Chavez’ ending of the Apertura Petrolera’s operating agreements and their replacement by the incorporation of Empresas Mixtas.

According to reports, Harvest had a tense relationship with PDVSA since then. It ended up selling its shares to Pluspetrol’s entity Petroandina, and to Delta Petroleum NV for a total of $255 million in 2016. Delta is connected to businessman Oswaldo Cisneros and Derwick “businessman” (not to mention Henry Ramos Allup’s brother-in-law), Francisco D’Agostino.

Harvest is suing before a Texas federal court, for the difference between the price it would’ve obtained if the approval hadn’t been illegally withheld ($725 million) and the price they actually got. We don’t know how this will end, but Ramírez’ need for a gofundme is starting to look a lot less like a joke.

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