In a notorious, internationally known context of widespread public corruption in Venezuela, the justice systems of foreign states are expected to respond effectively when their territory is used to launder money gained from corrupt practices in Venezuelan territory. In the first part of a series of blogs, the author analyzes two criminal cases in progress before the US courts (the Housing case and the Food for Venezuela case). The author concludes that, in the event of a conviction, the custodial sentences will probably be for long terms and the total amount of money involved in laundering will be confiscated. In a second part of the blog series, it will be analyzed how the Mexican courts have dealt with the ramification of the Food for Venezuela case in Mexican territory.
A criminal proceeding against a self-proclaimed Venezuelan «anti-blockade agent» is currently underway before the U.S. justice system. This process represents another step in the search for accountability abroad for Venezuela state corruption. The individual’s image as a «Venezuelan ambassador, [who] has provided basic foodstuffs… to meet the needs of social welfare programs in Venezuela,» contrasts with legal actions in the U.S. brought against him and his associates.
U.S. authorities have charged the defendants with conspiracy to commit international money laundering and laundering of monetary instruments worth hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars. These would come from their transnational businesses, linked to acts of corruption by the Venezuelan State in investing in the welfare of its population, particularly public corruption related to the importation of basic foodstuffs.
In the mid-17th century, the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes used the image of a biblical monster, the Leviathan, to illustrate the power of the State and its function of maintaining social order. It has since remained a symbol of fear-invoking power and unmatched sovereign strength.
The foundation for the potentially monstrous power of the Leviathan is one of the main obligations of the State, perhaps the most primary one of them all: to maintain security within its territory. If a State does not fulfill that function, all other possible aspirations, from the offer of high-quality public services, to economic development and the respect and promotion of fundamental rights, are deeply compromised and, in extreme circumstances, can become even impossible.
The problem is that, to fulfill the responsibility of providing security, the State needs to have a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.
A few days ago, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (la Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, JEP), the transitional tribunal established in Colombia by the peace agreements signed in 2016, issued a very important decision providing clarification for cases of civilians murdered during the conflict who were presented to the government as enemy casualties in combat (a macabre practice that in Colombia was known by the euphemism “false positives”).
The JEP’s decision included, among other significant things, this court’s first indictment of a “civilian third party”. The peace agreement uses the term “civilian third party” to refer to those persons who, without being part of an armed group, participated in the commission of grave human rights violations. Many of these third parties had eminently economic motivations and, to satisfy them, sponsored the armed actors in various ways, including providing economic, logistical, and political support.
The relationship between economic actors and armed groups in times of repression and war is not unique to the Colombian conflict. Victims of human rights violations have recounted how economic elites, companies (transnational and national) and other business agents (formal and informal) have been complicit in human rights violations in every corner of the globe.