READ How Former Edo Governor, Igbinedion, Lost N3.3 billion To Venezuelan Conmen

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Nemesis may have finally caught up with ex-convict and
former Governor of Edo State, Lucky Igbinedion, as he has lost over N3.3
billion to Venezuelan fraudsters, in a deal that bears all the marks of a
classic 419 scam, Premium Times can authoritatively reveal.
Court documents seen by Premium Times also suggest that Mr.
Igbinedion may be insolvent, as two US-based law firms have walked away from a
$600 million lawsuit he instituted against the alleged mastermind and the
Venezuelan state owned oil company, Petroleos De Venezuela S.A (PDVSA), over
his inability to pay retainer as low as 
N627,000.00 ($3,800.00).

Mr. Igbinedion plundered Edo State treasury for the eight
years he was governor. He escaped jail after he reached a controversial plea
bargain agreement with the Farida Waziri-led Economic and Financial Crimes
Commission, EFCC, which dropped all but one of the 191 charges of corruption
and money laundering against him.
In 2008, a Federal High Court in Enugu sentenced him to six
months in prison with the option of a N3.5 million fine. The controversial plea
bargain agreement he reached with the EFCC also required that he return N500
million and three of the houses he acquired with stolen public funds to the
Federal Government.
But it’s not yet Uhuru for Mr. Igbinedion as the Court of
Appeal in Benin ruled on April 9, 2014 that he has a case to answer over a
fresh 66-count money laundering and financial impropriety suit brought against
him by the EFCC. A Federal High Court had ruled in 2011 that it would amount to
double jeopardy and abuse of court process to try him again after the plea
bargain he entered with the EFCC.
He has been accused of stealing over N3 billion from Edo
State’s treasury.
Classic 419-scam
In 2006, looking to cash in on the lucrative but
fraud-tainted fuel importation business, the ex-governor’s front and Managing
Director of Skanga Energy and Marine Limited, a company formed by Mr.
Igbinedion and his brother, Bright, in 1992, Christian Imoukhuede, approached
the then Venezuelan Trade Consul to Nigeria, Enrique Arrundell, about the
prospect of importing petrol, aviation fuel, and diesel from the South American
country.
According to documents filed with a US District Court in New
York, Mr. Arrundell advised Mr. Imoukhuede that the best way to get fuel was to
go through a PDVSA approved agent.
Mr. Arrundell then introduced Mr. Imoukhuede to Arevenca, a
fraudulent firm owned by alleged notorious Venezuelan conman, Francisco
Gonzalez.
That meeting with Mr Gonzalez marked the beginning of Mr
Igbinedion’s woes.
Mr. Igbinedion and his front, Mr. Imoukhuede claimed in
court that they did due diligence checks on Arevenca through the Venezuelan
embassy in Abuja. They claim that embassy officials confirmed Arevenca as a
reputable Venezuelan business concern and validated documents provided by
Arevenca that supposedly showed a relationship with PDVSA.
But it has since turned out that Arevenca might be a
complete fraud. PDVSA has since said in court that it has no records of any
relationship with Arevenca.
Arevenca is a registered corporation under Venezuelan law
but was most recently headquartered in Aruba. Its subsidiaries are: Arevenca
AKTM, registered in British Virgin Islands; Arevenca SL, registered in Spain;
and Arevenca Aruba Holding NV.
Others are Arevenca Bank, Arevenca Foundation, Fly Aruba
Suriname, Arevenca Mining and Arevenca Petroleum Company registered in offshore
tax haven, Suriname. There is Arevenca Finances Holding registered in
Switzerland and Arevenca Ivory Coast.
Many of these subsidiaries are shell companies or exist only
in names.
A Canadian-based freelance journalist, Steven Bodzin, who
worked as an energy reporter in Venezuela and has written a number of exposés
on Arevenca, revealed that Arevenca’s website is a repository of mind-numbing
lies meant to hoodwink mostly unsuspecting international investors.
For instance, on its website, Arevenca claims to have a
global refining capacity of 2.5 million barrels per day and plans to build a
two million barrel per day refinery in Ivory Coast.
It also claims to have a fleet of 72 ships.
However, the company with the highest refining capacity in
the world as at September 2013, Reliance Jamnagar Refinery, India, has a
refining capacity of only 1.24 million barrels per day.
In fact, Arevenca is not listed among the top ten refineries
in the world. The only Venezuela-based refinery in the top 10, Paraguana
Refining Centre, belongs to PDVSA and has a processing capacity of just 955,000bpd.
And despite claiming to have 75 vessels, a PREMIUM TIMES
search on Lloyds Ship Directories shows that Arevenca does not operate from any
of Venezuelan’s 16 ports. There is also no proof that the company is building a
two million barrel per day refinery in Ivory Coast as it claimed.
These are just few of the web of lies contained in
Arevenca’s website. Other false claims made by the company to defraud investors
can be found on Mr. Bodzin’s blog.
In October 2006, Mr. Imoukhuede, who was Mr. Igbinedion’s
schoolmate, arrived at the Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas and
was ushered into the VIP lounge of the facility and later given a luxury ride
to the exquisite InterContinental Tamanaco, rated among the top three hotels in
the country.
It was at Intercontinental Tamanaco that Mr. Imoukhuede had
initial negotiation with Mr. Gonzalez and an unnamed Nigerian.
After the meeting, Skanga reached a tentative agreement to
buy “petroleum products” from Arevenca. Arevenca also agreed to give Skanga the
first right of refusal to buy its AGO (diesel), PMS (premium motor spirit) DPK
(kerosene), Jet Al fuel, Bitumen and Fuel oil.
The deal was to take off with a 35,000 metric tones of AGO
in the first instance and then grow into about three cargoes monthly, according
to an official statement by Skanga.
Bank transfer documents show that Skanga paid $1.05 million
of the $1.4 million cost of freight.
Skanga’s officials claimed during interrogation in court
that their company made these payments ($580,000 and $470,000) based on the
proof of certain “inducement documents which included an alleged PDVSA bill of
lading.
After Skanga made these initial payments, it became trapped.
The duping of the former governor and his corrupt clan began in full swing.
Igbinedion goes to Caracas
In January 2007, four months before the expiration of his
governorship term, Mr. Igbinedion travelled to Caracas, ostensibly on an
official visit and possibly lavishing Edo state money on the deal.  But our investigations indicate the visit was
to put finishing touches to the deal earlier reached by his front three months
earlier.
According to the Bolivarian News Agency (ABN), Mr.
Igbinedion and his entourage were purportedly met by some of the influential
“Chavista” politicians in the country, as supporters of the late Venezuelan
leader, Hugo Chávez, are called: the Mayor of Central Caracas, Freddy Bernal,
the Governor of Miranda, Diosdado Cabello, and Deputy Foreign Minister for
Africa, Reinaldo Bolívar as well as other top Venezuelan government officials
and businessmen.
It was an elaborate event accompanied by lavish photo op,
expensive alcohol and dinner in the evening at the “Gran Melia Hotel, another
top three luxury hotel in Venezuela, according to luxury hotel reservations
website, Five Star Alliance.
Mr. Igbinedion was handed the key to the city of Caracas and
announced as the “Alcaldía de Libertador”, the honorary Mayor of the central
Caracas borough of Libertador. He also held a meeting with top officials of the
Venezuelan Foreign Ministry at their headquarters, the Yellow House.
But the whole fanfare was a grand charade and part of a well
orchestrated confidence trick put together by some of the most devious conmen
in Latin America.
It later appeared that Mr. Gonzalez received an intensive course
on Nigerian niceties.  Emails from Mr.
Arrundell and Gonzalez to Mr. Igbinedion have that uniquely Nigerian
informality. Rather than write in a formal manner as one would have expected of
parties in a multi-million dollar deal, they addressed Mr. Igbinedion as “My
brother Lucky” or “Dear brother Lucky.”
One letter by Mr. Gonzalez, filled with grammatical errors,
reads:
Dear brother lucky
I already send the dignity signed invoice.You
know what this mean.Nobody do this, but I always honored my word, agins all
the logical and normal status.I prefer died that do not honored my
word.This
is another demonstration that I am a honor man.That
mean that the product is yours.I trust you like a brother I hope you
do not let me down.I do not want disappoint you, I hope you do not disappoint
me.
Best regards, You brother and friend
Francisco JAvier Gonzalez
The geniality of Mr. Gonzalez’s letters coupled with the
grand reception, some would say deception, he got during his “official” visit
to Caracas apparently made Mr. Igbinedion even more trusting of the Venezuelan
gang.
Nigerian thief, money launderer, is scammed
After a couple of other meetings later that year, Arevenca
made Skanga a deal too good to be true: a consignment of 35,000 metric tonnes
of diesel will be sent to Skanga.
All it needed to do was to prepay the charges for delivery
and complete the full payment for the delivery in three months.
Mr. Igbinedion could not believe his luck. Skanga promptly
transferred $19.6 million more to Arevenca’s Swiss bank account as freight
charges and partial payment for two consignments of Petrol and diesel aboard
two vessels named “Digniti” and “Ventur.”
The vessels never arrived.
The Nigerian Port Authority said it does not have any record
of “Digniti” or “Ventur” entering Nigerian waters at the time it was billed to
arrive.
In fact, PREMIUM TIMES investigation reveals that there are
no vessels named “Dignitii” or “Ventur”.
Searches on Lloyds directories and other ship directories
show that the ship don’t exist anywhere in the world.
All efforts made to contact the Venezuelan embassy to
confirm the extent to which Mr. Arrundell, who has been posted out of the
country, was involved in the scam was unsuccessful.
The embassy’s phone number seems to be out of order and
emails were returned as undelivered.
Mr. Imoukhuede declined to comment when contacted by PREMIUM
TIMES. He explained that since the case is in court, Skanga’s lawyer was in the
best position to make public comments on the matter.
“You know the case is in court. I don’t think I am at ease
to talk about it. I would have to talk to the lawyer. I can’t make any comment.
The Nigerian legal system is different from the American system. The best thing
is to talk to Femi Salu,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The remaining parts in this series will look
at courtroom intrigues; how two of Igbinedion’s American counsel abandoned the
case due to his inability to pay their retainer.
A part will look at the role played by MRS Oil Nigeria
Limited plus interesting revelations in court while another will take a look at
the role of the Venezuelan authorities in the entire scam.

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