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Juanfe Serrano: From selling goats in Iran to smuggling oil with Venezuela: the Spaniard persecuted by the US | International

Juanfe Serrano: From selling goats in Iran to smuggling oil with Venezuela: the Spaniard persecuted by the US |  International

Few entrepreneurs can boast more courage than Juanfe Serrano. Regardless of borders, embargoes, embargoes or nuclear threats, the Spanish are capable of transporting any commodity, living or inert, from one point to another. “We are experts in the Middle East. We help companies improve and expand their international business”, it announced on LinkedIn. Four years ago Goats flooded the mountains of the Islamic Republic of Iran A non-explosive species, capable of withstanding extreme cold and heat. Serrano lived halfway between Tehran and Murcia, a phrase he often uttered that impressed those who heard it. Later, its radius was extended to Venezuela, another country marginalized by Washington. There he bought cattle to take to Iraq and Egypt. And, by chance, he made connections in the Chavista government and began to explore the lucrative oil business, which landed him in serious trouble for a long time.

According to the United States Department of Justice, Serrano was part of an international criminal network that specialized in evading international sanctions and laundering money from Russian oligarchs. Among the investigators are five citizens of that country and one Venezuelan. According to the indictment, some of that money was used to finance the invasion of Ukraine. The 47-year-old Spanish businessman acted as a liaison between the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA and Russian traders to transport cargo on oil tankers. The shareholders used shell companies to evade international controls.

The indictment was filed in federal court in Brooklyn, New York. It is compiled by a district attorney, an FBI agent and other US export officials. Serrano didn’t let go of his surprise 24 hours after the investigation was made public. While he was in the middle of a meeting, someone announced to him that henceforth he was being persecuted by the most powerful government in the world:

– I almost fainted.

He said on the other end of the phone. “I was negotiating with the Russians to sell a Venezuelan oil tanker, and it didn’t go through in the end. They didn’t meet the conditions. The ship was going to end up in China or Malaysia, I don’t know which is the final destination,” he continues. He has been doing business in Venezuela for three years and during that time He also explains that he has met with politicians from Nicolás Maduro’s government – in his conversations he boasts that he has important contacts with high-ranking Chavista leaders. “Yes, of course I spoke with people from PDVSA. But these people (the Russians) are caught for something else, they involve me. It’s more than Paul. Rare”, says Serrano.

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During the conversation, the businessman was waiting for a call from his lawyer: he was worried that the United States would demand his extradition. Serrano remained more or less unnoticed in public life until 2018, according to journalist Rafael Mendez. His unusual goat business. At the time he was vice president of a football team in his hometown of Murcia. Through his company Treseus, he imports saffron and petrochemicals from Iran to make plastic. In turn, it exported sugar, pulses, maize and wheat. Serrano found prosperity in a distant land.

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In 2019, he began trading cattle in Venezuela, one of the countries strangled by Washington sanctions, by his own account. Through the Treasury Department, the United States attaches to the Clinton list corrupt companies and individuals or those suspected of laundering drug-trafficking assets. Maduro and his key ministers are on that blacklist. PDVSA, too. Those who do business with those mentioned can be persecuted by the North American justice system, which is what happened to Serrano.

Traders who specialize in circumventing these restrictions are getting around governments like Venezuela. Without the authority to control those transactions, it is doing corrupt business in the shadows and taking millionaire commissions. A case in point is the Alex Sapp case, a Colombian who started building houses in Venezuela and ended up as Chavismo’s main economic operator. The press discovered that he was involved in numerous corruption cases. Washington sees him as Maduro’s figurehead, a man who hides his wealth outside the country. His journey ended last year when his private plane ran out of fuel and had to stop in the African country of Cape Verde. There he was arrested and later extradited to Miami—where former Spanish judge Baldazar Carson presided over his defense—. Maduro blamed the coup after his government suspended talks with opposition parties in Mexico to resolve the Venezuelan crisis.

The Justice Department’s investigation is fueled by emails, phone conversations and a thorough search of the cryptocurrency market. The prime suspect is Yuri Orekov, a Russian national living between Germany and the United Arab Emirates. He is the co-owner of an industrial equipment company called NDA GmbH. Previously, he was the manager of an aluminum company owned by a Russian oligarch whose name has not been released by the US attorney’s office. In fact, the Americans believe that Orokov only continues to work secretly for the oligarchy. Her main partner was Artem Us, the son of a Russian politician who was the governor of Krasnoyarsk, a region in Siberia. Uss owned a coal mine and held a high position in a state-controlled oil company.

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The pair used NDA GmbH as a front company to buy sensitive military technology from US manufacturers, such as microprocessors and semiconductors used in fighter jets, missile systems, radars and satellites. These electronic systems have ended up in the hands of Russian companies authorized to work in the defense sector in Russia and have been found in seized weapons. On the battlefield in Ukraine. They are the main conspirators in this conspiracy and both are in custody.

Unaware that they were listening, Orekov contacted the Spanish merchant. “I negotiated with Yuri about the oil tanker, but the contract was not made, we did not move forward, and I did not hear from him for centuries,” Serrano defends himself. Instead, the indictment alleges that they had contact between January 2018 and September of this year, and that together they “conspired and attempted to defraud” the US Office of Foreign Assets Control and the Commerce Department. “Knowing they’re doing it,” North American bureaucrats say. On December 4, 2021, authorities intercepted a conversation between the two in English:

—He (the oligarch)—he says when linking to the man’s entry on Wikipedia—is under sanctions. That is why he operates from the company [NDA GmbH] As a facade.

It is surprising that the accused did not try to create some kind of secret language to hide their activities.

“My partner too. LOL. He is very close to the government. He is one of the most influential people in Venezuela. Closest to the Vice President (Delcy Rodriguez)-, Serrano will respond.

It shows Google results for a Venezuelan lawyer and businessman wanted by the US for bribery and money laundering. His identity has also been kept secret, although it will be known to the prosecution. The Russian tells the Spaniard that in March 2022 it expects a monthly contract of one million barrels per month with PDVSA, a “stable and secure” business again.

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The moment cements a happy meeting between a man with connections (Serrano) and another who is backed by a billionaire who wants to buy a large amount of oil. The indictment alleges that the Spanish businessman and Russian businessmen laundered tens of millions of dollars through bank accounts registered in New York. Serrano admitted to this newspaper that he had these conversations, but denies that the transactions were fruitful.

However, without any trace, Justice revealed a series of exchanges in which the defendants talked about creating shell companies and how to make money transactions through China and Singapore. Also, intercepted communications showed that a wholesaler in Houston attempted to pass off oil to be distributed as food and ordered the vessels’ GPS to be turned off.

The Spanish businessman, at one point, urged the Russians to deliver the money as soon as possible. Otherwise, it will end up in the hands of other investors:

“We sold 600,000 barrels of oil,” Serrano ruefully announces to the Russian.

“Did you sell them?” Why not us?

-Buyer paid 100% in cash, here (Caracas). This is over. Next (cargo) we can talk for you.

“Are they locals or Russians?”

– The Russians. Money matters.

“I can keep the money,” notes the Russian businessman.

—Once you have it —explains Serrano— we can work. They want US dollars.

There are pages and pages of conversations between the two on the same terms. At one point, Serrano sends him several QR codes and four wallets in which Russians must enter different amounts: two of 500,000, one over a million and two over two million dollars. He urges him to do it soon: “Please, Yuri, send the confirmation. He should be at PDVSA at 10.”

In any case, the US has suddenly shut down these million dollar businesses. The commercial adventures of Juanfe Serrano, the dangerous businessman admired by all as the Marco Polo of the Goats, are now on hold.

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