Episode 7: How Did Venezuela’s Oil Riches End up in Swiss Banks?

Repressed by Venezuela’s government on one side. Muzzled by Swiss banking secrecy laws on the other. Yet against these odds, a team of reporters exposed how corrupt Venezuelan elites stashed stolen oil profits in Credit Suisse accounts.

In this episode of Dirty Deeds…

In this episode, Nick Wallis interviews OCCRP editor Nathan Jaccard and Armando.Info editor-in-chief Valentina Lares on how a leak of Credit Suisse customer data sparked a global investigation that revealed how Venezuelan oil officials convicted of corruption stashed their millions in Switzerland’s notoriously secretive banking sector.

Read the investigation:

Black Gold in Swiss Vaults: Venezuelan Elites Hid Stolen Oil Money in Credit Suisse

Host Nick Wallis talks to…

Nathan Jaccard - @NJaccard

Nathan is an OCCRP editor for Latin America and edited this investigation as part of the Suisse Secrets project.

“The secrecy laws made it impossible for anyone in Switzerland to work with us because it was too risky. And several lawyers asked us to be really careful with that, because it could mean that we could not go back to Switzerland.”

Valentina Lares - @valentinalares

Valentina is editor-in-chief of Venezuelan journalism website Armando.Info and helped investigate the many Venezuelan clients listed in the Credit Suisse leak.

“The only way we have been actually able to write stories about corruption is working globally with partners around the world because the information in Venezuela, it’s very, very hard to reach.”

Steven Bodzin - @guacamayan

Steven is a journalist specializing in Latin American financial fraud and the energy sector. He works for REDD Intelligence, a financial news service focused on high-yield debt in emerging markets.

“You find a rich country, you will find companies in that country that made money in Venezuela and quite often made money in really dodgy ways.”

Show Notes

  • [0:00] Introduction
  • [1:56] Nathan Jaccard explains how OCCRP obtained the Suisse Secrets leaks
  • [4:54] Valentina Lares gives a crash course on Venezuela’s state oil sector
  • [8:45] Nathan on Swiss banking secrecy and why corrupt elites have used Swiss bank accounts
  • [13:58] Why did Credit Suisse fail to vet its customers properly?
  • [17:21] Valentina on the dangers of reporting in Venezuela
  • [20:24] Nathan explains how Swiss banking secrecy laws makes reporting difficult
  • [25:03] Valentina explains why she and other editors at Armando.Info have been forced to leave Venezuela
  • [26:09] The consequences of the article for Venezuela, the corrupt elites and Credit Suisse
  • [29:58] Steven Bodzin explains the implications of OCCRP’s reporting on Venezuelan elites and Credit Suisse
  • [34:06] How can Venezuela exit its current crisis?
  • [36:23] Who is to blame for the corruption in Venezuela?

Check out other episodes on the Dirty Deeds main page.

Follow The Money — and Our Investigations: Get our weekly newsletter.

Support investigative journalism in the public interest. Donate to OCCRP.


Nick Wallis: Coming up, the link between the collapse of Venezuela’s state oil producer, Credit Suisse bank, and powerful nations exploiting unstable governments.

Valentina Lares: What you have in Venezuela, mostly it’s a scenario of fear. You can just be jailed for saying your opinion or by pointing out something wrong in the system.

Nathan Jaccard: The secrecy laws made it impossible for anyone in Switzerland to work with us because it was too risky. Several lawyers asked us to be really careful with that, because it could mean that we could not go back to Switzerland.

Steven Bodzin: You find a rich country, you will find companies in that country that made money in Venezuela and quite often made money in really dodgy ways.

Nick Wallis: My name is Nick Wallis and this is Dirty Deeds: Tales of Global Crime and Corruption, a podcast from the global journalism network, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, or OCCRP, as it’s known. In 2022, OCCRP published a piece about banking corruption in Europe and how it facilitates crime in South America. Two journalists, Nathan Jaccard from OCCRP and Valentina Lares from Armando.info, worked as part of a team investigating a leak from the Swiss bank Credit Suisse. When OCCRP started examining the data, they found the names of more than 20 former executives of the collapsed Venezuelan state oil company known as PDVSA. Between them they’d stashed away more than $270 million. Many of the people involved had either been convicted, indicted on corruption charges, or are on the run. But what interested OCCRP and their partners was how a European bank could help facilitate the corruption. In an interview recorded before Credit Suisse was absorbed by the Union Bank of Switzerland, I started our conversation by asking Nathan how OCCRP got hold of the leaked information.

Nathan Jaccard: Originally, the data was provided to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung by an anonymous source more than a year before we published, so that’s in 2019. The person just left a message saying that the Swiss banking secrecy laws were immoral.

Nick Wallis: Did you know whether the source was internal or external to the bank?

Nathan Jaccard: We don’t know much and we really can’t say anything more about the source. What we know is that this person somehow had access to some internal data about bank accounts. So what we got as journalists was a massive amount of information. We started working on that and organizing and identifying. So we first had a couple of months of really boring work.

Nick Wallis: And what was this data formatted in? Was it electronic or were you given thousands and thousands of paper documents? And did it come directly from the newspaper, the German newspaper, after they’d done their own verifications, or did you have to go through your own verification process to prove to yourself that the data was what it purported to be?

Nathan Jaccard: It was electronic data, but it was still in a really raw format.

Nick Wallis: When the raw data came to you, you said it was in a very disorganized state. What are we talking about? Are we talking about spreadsheets? Are we talking about lists of numbers? Are we talking about letters? How much data were you actually handling?

Nathan Jaccard: So the data all in all is more than 18,000 Credit Suisse accounts with 30,000 account holders, but really basic information that gave us dates when the accounts were created, how much money was in the account, but we had to really start diving into the different countries. We had more than 160 nationalities from 120 different jurisdictions.

Aleph, this tool that we use, enables us to filter so we can start filtering by nationalities. For instance, Venezuela was one of the countries that was most represented in the leak. We had 6,000 names just for Venezuela, but before we really started diving into the names, we had to spend three months working on organizing the information we got, uploading it, checking that it was accurate so we had enough information to tell us that we had legitimate documents.

Nick Wallis: You mentioned Venezuela, and we’re going to focus on Venezuela because that was the subject of your brilliant article, “Black Gold in Swiss Vaults: Venezuelan Elites Hid Stolen Oil Money in Credit Suisse,” and listening patiently to what you’ve been saying is Valentina Lares. Hi Valentina.

Valentina Lares: Hi.

Nick Wallis: First of all, just tell us a little bit about Venezuela as a country. Where is it located for those who’ve never seen it on a map before or who’ve never been there? And how does the economy function?

Valentina Lares: Well, we are talking about a beautiful country that is in the north of South America, between Colombia, Brazil to the south and the Caribbean Sea. We’re talking about a country with roughly 30 million people and it has lived through oil exploitation the last 50 years. It’s the main source of wealth of the country.

It reached, 15 years ago, three million barrels per day and it was the fifth-largest oil producer in the world. Those levels have fallen dramatically over the last decade because of misconduct, bad administration, and also corruption. And now it’s barely recovering oil production, which has fallen down to 400,000 barrels per day. That has provoked a huge wave of poverty, unfortunately, and also a big exodus.

Nick Wallis: Why is it that so many Venezuelans ended up with bank accounts at Credit Suisse? Because that obviously became a source of considerable interest to you when you received this data.

Valentina Lares: Well, actually, that was a big surprise for OCCRP, and that’s why they reached out to some Venezuelan journalists, me included. They needed a pair of coached eyes to see through so many names that were coming from Venezuela as clients of Credit Suisse. So we started digging up these names.

Venezuela has the biggest proven reserves of oil in the world and many of the names we were looking at were linked to the oil industry and they were not new names for us. It was mostly names that we’ve heard, read, and known that were linked to schemes of corruption, but we found that many of the names that were already indicted or under some legal procedures had their money in Credit Suisse. So the bell rang very loud for us and we started digging because PDVSA, which is the state oil company…

Nick Wallis: Yes, that stands for Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. but everyone knows it as PDVSA, right. So basically the state-owned oil company.

Valentina Lares: Yes. Well, it’s no secret that it has been looted almost to the ground.

Nick Wallis: Does it still exist? Because I got the sense that at this point it barely exists because it’s essentially been hollowed out by the corruption within it.

Valentina Lares: It barely exists, but it does [exist]. It’s sort of recovering now with the help of Iranians and Russians. But it used to be the fifth-largest oil producer in the world, and it fell down on its knees, practically. You can go to any infrastructure of PDVSA’s in Venezuela and you will find rusty structures, and some of the refineries or the oil drills are almost abandoned.

Nick Wallis: Nathan, just explain to people who may have not come across Credit Suisse before and the way that Swiss banking works, why would a corrupt Venezuelan oil executive want to open a Swiss bank account?

Nathan Jaccard: Credit Suisse was one of the biggest banks in Switzerland, hence in the world, so we are really talking about a major banking player. And we know that during the most corrupt years in Venezuela, where oil prices were really high, there were lots of corrupt schemes around PDVSA and in general in the country around a lot of different aspects: food, drugs imported for the pharmacies, for the hospitals. So it’s not like your average $10 million corrupt guy. We’re talking about corruption schemes that are in the billions of dollars.

Nick Wallis: How do these corruption schemes actually manifest themselves? Is it someone saying: “I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you a contract if you add an extra $5-10 million on for me and just deposit it over here.” Is it that simple?

Nathan Jaccard: The more classical schemes that we are talking about [are] contracts. So I give you 10% if you give me the contract. So some guys that were giving money in exchange for public funds to do oil contracts that are worth huge amounts of money, but also more complicated schemes because Venezuela at that time had a control on the bolivar, the national currency. So they would control the exchange rates.

And it’s a bit complicated, but basically, if you had access to U.S. dollars and the exchange rates, you could make a lot of money because you were getting really, really, really cheap U.S. dollars. And then instead of paying 100 bolivars for $1, you would pay ten bolivars for $1. So you could get a lot of dollars really cheap through government access and through government contacts. And then you could get these dollars that you bought really cheap and then go to international markets or resell them back in the black market in Venezuela, so making a lot of money this way and really looting the country.

Nick Wallis: But surely Credit Suisse as a responsible banking organization, had a duty to inquire as to where their client’s wealth was coming from?

Nathan Jaccard: Yeah. So at that time you could see several international banks and several Swiss banks, private ones, smaller ones, but also bigger ones like Credit Suisse, [were] present in Venezuela with brokers that were trying to get and lure clients into the banks. And wealthy people, corrupt people, knew where to go or with whom to work where it was easier to get your money to a Swiss bank.

Why would you want to get money into a Swiss bank? Because once it’s in the Swiss system, it’s money that’s almost clean. You can then go and buy a mansion or buy a yacht or whatever, and no one’s going to ask anything. It’s already coming from a Swiss bank account. Supposedly the banks have to do a lot of verification, know your client, due diligence, but we realized that this was something that was not done.

We found a document that came from Spanish prosecutors that showed us one of the main clients. This guy is called Nervis Villalobos. He already had tried to open a bank account with Credit Suisse and they did due diligence on him at that time. We had some of the documents from the due diligence and they were raising a lot of red flags and saying: “This guy used to be a vice-minister of energy. This guy is linked to these schemes.” But nevertheless they accepted him and they opened more and more accounts in his name and on his behalf.

Valentina Lares: Something which was like a eureka [moment] for us when we were investigating was one of the addresses he submitted in Caracas, not that it didn’t exist, it was a mix between his address in Maracaibo and something in Miami. He made a Frankenstein address he said was in Caracas. We are from Caracas, and we saw this and said: “This place is fantasyland, completely.”

Nick Wallis: Well as you say, it’s a massive red flag and it’s another intriguing part of your investigation. One of the things that strikes me about this is that you published the investigation in February last year. Now, after the financial crash in 2008-2009, world banking was supposed to have cleaned up its act, and yet from what you’re saying, Credit Suisse were at the very least not doing due diligence on the customers that they were attracting over the last decade and may well have been involved in corrupt practice, which suggests that at least this bank within the system hasn’t cleaned up its act since the banking crisis. What was your interpretation of it?

Nathan Jaccard: This bank has been going through a lot of different crises and scandals, and they’ve always said: “We’re sorry, this was a mistake. It’s not systematic. We are cleaning up and we are trying to make an effort.” But what we can see, and it’s clear in the data, is that even after they made a public announcement saying that they were pulling their things together, organizing, they were still accepting dirty money, or very toxic money at least, that they should have known about.

So we also tried to compile enough cases to show that this was a systematic practice that was happening in the bank. Some internal sources were also interviewed and one of the stories in the Suisse Secrets series includes their testimonies, and they all say that there was internal pressure to get big money into the bank, partially linked also to to the 2008 crisis because that’s when they also decided to expand to new markets and to get more clients from from new markets.

So we’re talking about Venezuela, but we’re also talking about the Middle East, South Asia, so other countries where they decided strategically to expand after the crisis. If you have poor money for them, like $1 million, $5 million, you will go through the whole due diligence process and it’s going to be tough and they will verify. If you have $20 million, $40 million, it’s going to be easier for you and they won’t verify.

Nick Wallis: You mentioned you spoke to some insiders, but how do you actually make contact with people inside a bank and persuade them to give you a comment like this?

Nathan Jaccard: There was a team that was mostly focused on why the bank was accepting these kinds of clients. They started talking with former employees, that connected them to current [employees]. And it’s interesting because after the publication, more people have come forward trying to reach us. Of course, it’s really difficult because it’s not only that you can lose your job or get a bad reputation in the industry for coming forward, but it’s also a legal issue in Switzerland. Swiss laws are really tough on bank secrecy.

Nick Wallis: We’ll come back to Switzerland’s banking secrecy laws in a moment. But first, Valentina, what was the situation on the ground in Venezuela? Because you quote people anonymously who are still in fear.

Valentina Lares: Well, in Venezuela, let’s say the ecosystem of media and freedom of speech is severely damaged because we’re living under a dictatorship that prosecutes people at their work. Also you can be jailed for saying your opinion or by pointing out something wrong in the system. So what you have in Venezuela, mostly it’s a scenario of fear of speaking.

So we wanted with the article to explain how these kind of processes really affect the industry and the lives of people. So that’s why we wanted to go to what once was the jewel of oil production in Venezuela, which is Maracaibo, specifically Lago de Maracaibo, to see the effects of that corruption. And we found, of course, most of the oil workforce diminished and exhausted and poor, but also we found infrastructure abandoned and we wanted to describe as vividly as we could how the jewel of Venezuela, the main motor of wealth of the country, was looted to the ground. And we started talking with the people and watching the places. It’s a place where you can actually step on oil, it’s coming out of the soil, but you don’t have anywhere to process it.

All the pipes and tubes are rusty. You don’t have the navy fleet that used to transport the workers. And then when you talk to people about how they feel, how their life used to be when they had that job, you have a real sense of how in so little time — we are talking about five to 10 years — someone that has life insurance, middle-class workers, because working for PDVSA in Venezuela was like an objective of life, a goal for your life, if you had a job in PDVSA you were set because you had a good job for all your life. But now it’s almost a guarantee of poverty, and that changed completely in a very small amount of time.

Nick Wallis: And you have oil shortages don’t you in Venezuela?

Valentina Lares: It’s incredible for us to actually process that information, because we have always been the country that not only has gasoline for everybody, but also the cheapest gasoline in the world.

Nick Wallis: And you’ve been describing the corruption and the poverty that it engenders in Venezuela, and Nathan, you touched on the corruption in the banking system in Credit Suisse, or at least the turning of blind eyes to where money is coming from. But the theme that actually connects them both for me is the fact that the government makes it very, very difficult for anyone to speak out against this. And Nathan, you touched on this in particular. The Swiss secrecy laws around banking actively discourage or indeed punish whistleblowers, which perpetuates the problem.

Nathan Jaccard: Yes. So that’s a really big part of the whole issue. It’s forbidden by the law in Switzerland to hold banking information. So when we started working on this we were all taking a risk, a legal risk that could have legal consequences and eventually end up in a prison sentence for holding and just seeing this data.

I’m Colombian-Swiss and I was one of the people who was thinking, “Okay, maybe I won’t be able to go back to Switzerland because it’s going to be an issue for me.” I have my family in Switzerland and my grandmother, so maybe I couldn’t see my grandmother again, or at least in Switzerland, because maybe we could have really strong legal problems. That also was a problem for potential Swiss partners or for even going to Switzerland to investigate, because we couldn’t really tell Swiss journalists to help us on this because we knew that they would have massive consequences.

Nick Wallis: That’s crazy because you’ve got a country which is right in the middle of Europe, right in the middle of Western democracy, which effectively muzzles its own journalists from investigating corruption within its borders.

Nathan Jaccard: Switzerland is very proud of being this country where you can speak up, but at the same time, they have these kinds of laws. It’s more than an elephant in the room, it’s like a thousand elephants in the room.

Nick Wallis: Are these secrecy laws that exist in Switzerland part of the reason why you weren’t able to partner up with a Swiss media company in order to publish your story, in order to work on the investigation yourself?

Nathan Jaccard: Yes, these secrecy laws made it impossible for anyone in Switzerland to work with us because it was too risky. Several lawyers went through it and they said that it was not possible, and they asked us to to avoid going to Switzerland and to to be really careful because it could mean that we could not go back to Switzerland. I was hesitant about putting my name on the investigation, being in the credits and everything.

Nick Wallis: What was it like Valentina working across continents with people and trying to make sure that you actually were motivated to keep digging into these incredibly obscure documents to get the information you needed?

Valentina Lares: It’s been quite a breakthrough for me and also for Venezuelan journalism in general. The only way we have been actually able to write stories about corruption is working globally with partners around the world because the information in Venezuela, it’s very, very hard to reach. Venezuela doesn’t have practically any laws that protect freedom of speech or access to information.

So the opportunity to work with a platform like OCCRP that had access to this leak and so many others, it’s the only way practically to have access to a story this powerful and this full of data. It’s very hard and dangerous to find this kind of information inside Venezuela. So we are digging into what is outside.

Nick Wallis: You’re speaking to me from Spain at the moment. Are you at risk if you go back to Venezuela? Are journalists in general at risk?

Valentina Lares: I also work for a website of investigative journalism called Armando.info. We have some journalists in Caracas, but some of us are outside because our editors were prosecuted by the state for cracking another story and they had to flee the country.

It’s permanently blocked by the state communication company from the Internet. So people have to go through a VPN to have access to our content. But yes, the situation of journalists inside Venezuela is very tough. I don’t like to use the word, but they are actually very brave warriors. They are reporters that are inside and still doing their work.

Nick Wallis: You obviously work very closely as a team. What was it like seeing the story published and seeing the effect that it had?

Valentina Lares: Fortunately, we had the chance to see some repercussions, but especially in the case of Venezuela, the repercussions were among or between the people and the very few media [outlets] that still exist there and are independent. It was a big discussion and it was very important because we know in Venezuela that we’ve been robbed for the last few decades.

But this particular article and whole [Suisse Secrets] series allowed us to know how. Who are the enablers that allow them to move their money from one place to another, to wash it, to make it good for their financial system? So it created public discussion. Sadly, in the case of Venezuela, it hasn’t reached the judicial levels. There’s no one prosecuted.

Nick Wallis: Well this is the thing, in your article you talk about one Venezuelan who’s sitting pretty in a villa just outside Madrid with $2 million who’s been fingered in your article for potential corruption charges, but still evading the law.

Valentina Lares: Yeah, well most of the people we mentioned in that article were prosecuted in the United States or in Spain. But the case of the guys that are in Spain, particularly this one, it’s amazing how sometimes the law is so reluctant to pursue or go after white collar criminals. This guy is connected to almost every scheme that we have worked on in corruption in Venezuela, in the States, in Andorra, in Spain. But still, he has some sort of parole. But he walks free. Money talks and talks loud, apparently.

Nick Wallis: What have Credit Suisse said?

Nathan Jaccard: It was so huge that it became a national scandal. So it was difficult for [Swiss prosecutors] to go after the press and the journalists. So far, I haven’t been back to Switzerland, so I can’t really tell if I will get into more trouble. But we’ve been working with Swiss journalists. And I think that the pressure that we made with all this media [coverage] from around the world really protected us.

Nick Wallis: Nathan Jaccard from OCCRP and Valentina Lares from Armando.info talking about the corruption within PDVSA and how it appears Credit Suisse bank was happy to take money which had been looted from Venezuela.

During our interview, Valentina hinted that the political situation in Venezuela is difficult at the moment and there’s a climate of fear within the country. The current president, Nicolás Maduro, is not recognised by many Western countries, including the United States, which under Donald Trump imposed severe sanctions. These have been partially lifted by the Biden administration in exchange for the Maduro regime committing to release 200 political prisoners and hold a fair presidential election in 2024. Economically, a number of factors, including rampant corruption, have caused widespread poverty in Venezuela and an exodus of many working-age people unable to find jobs.

Stephen Bodzin is a writer and journalist specializing in Latin American financial fraud and the energy sector. He currently works for REDD Intelligence, a data and research provider focused solely on emerging markets. I started by asking him what Nathan and Valentina’s report says about the relationship between Venezuela, powerful nations, and global institutions.

Steven Bodzin: What the OCCRP report shows about Credit Suisse, the conclusions should not be limited to Credit Suisse. I think it’s really important to remember that Credit Suisse got unlucky in the sense that their data got leaked, but they are not alone. The number of companies in the U.K., in the United States, in Canada, Switzerland as well, France.

You find a rich country, you will find companies in that country that made money in Venezuela and quite often made money in really dodgy ways. And the information is out there. It’s well-known, the authorities know about it, but it’s much easier to go after the Venezuelans who are involved, to complain about PDVSA.

Nick Wallis: And Venezuela, as a country right now by any reading, is in serious trouble. I’m very interested because I know you’ve got a passion for that part of the world and you lived in Venezuela yourself. I was very interested in your reading on it. Where do you see the country as being now? And what about the geopolitical risk factors involved in trying to turn it into a functioning economy that can feed its own citizens, that can take advantage of the oil that is so close to the surface?

Steven Bodzin: It’s pretty tough because there are a lot of different directions things could go as far as whether to recognise the current de facto government in Venezuela, which is Nicolás Maduro’s government. He is the president there. He has control. The United States and several allies a few years ago decided that they would make this really all or nothing gambit of recognizing an interim government, an alternative head of state, Juan Guaidó, who was an elected legislator but he was never elected president.

But he took over the presidency in his mind and in the minds of the United States and some other countries. Unfortunately for the United States and for Guaidó, that didn’t work out. Fortunately for Maduro, that didn’t work out.

And at this point, it’s really tough to see exactly what direction things go. As far as this, all these issues of corruption, I think that the Venezuelan situation is deeply, deeply problematic right now. Going back decades, the way that business has been done there has included corruption, and unraveling that, unwinding that, is going to be really challenging.

But it’s clear that the current method of trying to do it, which is that the United States and other powerful countries have imposed sanctions on Venezuela and are just leaning on the country, that doesn’t seem to be having all that much of an effect. It’s mostly just shifting things into more and more opaque structures. At some point it would probably be good to get Venezuela back into the international system where we can at least see what’s happening a little bit better.

Nick Wallis: Is part of Venezuela’s problem that it has so much in terms of natural resources, it has so much oil, it is always going to be a player whoever has control of that oil, whether it’s the country itself and the executives who are running PDVSA or the foreign companies coming in looking to exploit it?

Steven Bodzin: That’s absolutely true. It’s an oil-rich place. It’s a small country. And because of the general ideology in Venezuela, and really in much of the world, that the state should be the main player in the oil industry, that means that you have all of the power concentrated in very few hands.

If you become the president of Venezuela, you not only get control of the armed forces, the public safety agencies, import-export, these kinds of things that a normal head of state in any country would be in charge of. You also get to be in charge of by far the biggest company and biggest industry in the country. As long as those two are traveling together, it’s a little bit like having church and state traveling together in medieval times where the most important institutions are all in very few hands and it’s a really winner-takes-all system with very few checks and balances.

Nick Wallis: It strikes me in your analysis of the situation that nothing is going to improve in Venezuela until either the Maduro government is recognized or the opponent government actually takes proper control and is properly recognized by the international community. Is that where you say the beginning of any solution starts or are there other things that need to be done or could be done more quickly, either internally or externally, to stop Venezuela from continuing as a failed state?

Steven Bodzin: Yeah, I think that there are a lot of people who’ve made good suggestions about how to take quicker steps than full recognition of the Maduro government. For example, there have been some efforts on the part of many countries to work with the Maduro government on humanitarian relief for people in Venezuela.

The Colombian government is working with Venezuela on issues of basic person-to-person connections. The fact that the Colombian government has recognized the Maduro government, that’s going to allow a lot easier travel back and forth for the many Venezuelans who’ve moved to Colombia, for the many Colombians living in Venezuela.

So it’s not that the United States specifically needs to immediately re-recognize Maduro. There are many countries involved that can do their part. The United States could also start letting companies do more humanitarian work and even oil work in Venezuela. That seems to be happening little by little.

Nick Wallis: And is Maduro defiant in the face of these sanctions or are there back channels open? Do you sense a softening or changing of position since Trump imposed the more stringent sanctions when he was in power?

Steven Bodzin: I think that the main change we’ve seen since the Trump administration put in maximum pressure policies is that the Maduro government has cracked down harder and harder on people, made it ever-harder for people to resist within Venezuela, and you’ve seen millions more people leave the country, including many of the kinds of people who you’d want to have there in order to help the country recover. So I think that’s why I personally see that policy as having failed and they didn’t have a plan B.

Nick Wallis: I just wonder, as a final question, whether you could possibly even call it as to whether Venezuela’s messed itself up or is the fault of foreign governments and foreign businesses enabling corruption and putting political pressure which has caused the situation in Venezuela?

Steven Bodzin: People are really good at being corrupt and I think everyone has it in them to take more than their share, given the opportunity. And one of the things we try to do as a civilization is set up systems where that doesn’t happen. Venezuela has had better and worse systems at times in its history.

Other countries have had better and worse systems. But it was in a lot of people’s interest to dismantle those systems during the oil boom starting in 2003. That included politicians in Venezuela, it included companies in other countries, it included banks like the ones that we’re looking at in this investigation. There were a lot of people making money and a lot of people gaining power, a lot of people eating well. It was a good time. So I don’t think that the blame should fall on any one individual or any one political party. There were a lot of people at fault for the sacking of Venezuela, and it’s going to take a lot of people working together to bring things back from where things are now.

Nick Wallis: My thanks to Steven Bodzin from REDD Intelligence. And before that Nathan Jaccard from OCCRP and Valentina Lares from Armando.info. We contacted Credit Suisse before they were acquired by UBS and put to them the allegations in this podcast the allegations in this podcast. They said: “As a matter of law, Credit Suisse cannot comment on potential client relationships, including closed relationships. Credit Suisse is committed to operating its business in strict compliance with all applicable laws, rules and regulations within the markets in which it operates, and we have stringent control mechanisms in place to combat financial crime-related activities, with a series of significant measures taken over the last decade in line with financial market reforms. Our strategy puts risk management at the very core of our business.”

We tried to contact Nervis Villalobos’ lawyer for comment but we were unable to reach him. When he was previously approached by OCCRP, he declined to comment. If you’d like to read the OCCRP report in full, it’s called “Black Gold in Swiss Vaults: Venezuelan Elites Hid Stolen Oil Money in Credit Suisse.”

Thank you for listening to Dirty Deeds. If you like what you hear, please leave us a review and give us a rating. This will help us bring these important stories to more people, and make a better podcast for you.

If you want to continue to hear incredible stories from OCCRP journalists and about the work they do, be sure to follow this podcast on your chosen podcast platform. That way you won’t miss future episodes and series.

You can support the difficult and often treacherous work OCCRP journalists do, so they can continue to expose the corruption and crime that would otherwise go unseen and unheard - to donate to the OCCRP, please go to occrp.org/donate.

Dirty Deeds: Tales of Global Crime and Corruption was produced by Lindsay Riley, with research by Phoebe Adler-Ryan and Riham Moussa at Rethink Audio.

And check out the growing number of OCCRP podcasts, which you can find on your favorite podcast platform. My name is Nick Wallis, and this has been a Little Gem production for the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter!

And get our latest investigations on organized crime and corruption delivered straight to your inbox.