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Corruption is universal, as is South Florida’s attraction to those accused of plundering their Latin American homeland.

Corruption has no ideology.

As millions of Venezuelans struggled with extreme economic hardship, facing food and medicine shortages under the socialist governments of current and past presidents, others would have seen an opportunity to get rich — or richer.

Homeland Security Investigations pursued a series of prominent Venezuelan targets accused of plundering the country which is a geopolitical enemy of the United States. These include former Venezuelan finance minister Alejandro Andrade, a resident of Wellington, Florida, convicted of receiving a billion dollars in bribes, and his alleged co-conspirator, Raúl Gorrín, a Venezuelan television mogul who is a fugitive from a money laundering indictment.

Raul Gorrin Miami Herald Archives

The Homeland Security Investigations Initiative, known as the El Dorado Task Force, has led to domestic and international seizures totaling approximately $500 million this year alone.

The Oberto brothers, Luis Jr., 44, and Ignacio, 37, could be the next target. The Department of Justice and other federal officials revealed to the Miami Herald that they are building a case against the bankers, who now both live in South Florida. They are under investigation in connection with the theft of more than $4.5 billion from the socialist government.

The alleged scheme involves granting loans to Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA, in bolivars and being repaid in US dollars. The brothers could make a fortune from a favorable exchange rate that is the exclusive domain of the government and political insiders close to the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro.

Sources close to the US investigation, which is ongoing, said the profits were then allegedly laundered through Swiss and US bank accounts, including Banco Espirito Santo, then Portugal’s largest bank, with a branch on Brickell Avenue, steps from the Venezuelan Consulate in Miami. Banco Espirito collapsed in 2014 amid allegations of fraud and money laundering.

The brothers both reside at the Carillon Miami Wellness Resort in Miami Beach, in units valued at over $2.5 million each. Oberto Jr. also owns luxury apartments in skyscrapers on the east side of Manhattan.

So far, no formal charges have been filed.

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Justice Department officials told the Miami Herald they are building a case against second-right bankers Luis Oberto Anselmi and his far-right brother, Ignacio.

David Markus, attorney for Ignacio Oberto, denies the allegations. “The Obertos have never been accused of wrongdoing in any country. They are respected business people who are ethical, honorable and transparent. We urge you not to continue this propaganda campaign against our clients,” a Markus said in a statement provided to the Herald on behalf of the two brothers.

The second pair of banker brothers hails from Ecuador. William and Roberto Isaías, 76 and 75 respectively, were briefly detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The brothers left their homeland, allegedly with millions in stolen money, as their financial institution, Filanbanco, collapsed in the 1990s, according to a contemporary cable by then-US Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney. (A 2013 State Department memo says Ecuador has yet to show that the brothers “knowingly participated in the embezzlement scheme.”)

Over the years, they have been the subject of various diplomatic quarrels. Despite efforts over the years by Ecuador to extradite on charges related to the missing money, the siblings managed to stay in the United States, and their family members became generous political benefactors. Finance recordings obtained by The New York Times in 2014 showed that the family had donated more than $320,000 to American political campaigns.

In a 2014 interview with The New York Times, Roberto Isaías said he and his brother did not make direct contributions because without green cards doing so would be illegal.

Donations included $90,000 to re-elect then-President Barack Obama and smaller amounts to various lawmakers, including former U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and current Senator Marco Rubio, both Republicans from Florida. , and Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey. The political contributions were a fraction of the $400 million that Ecuador alleges the brothers looted.

Under the Obama administration, then Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa offered that the brothers be repatriated in exchange for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who had been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012 to avoid a arrest for rape. Correa described the proposal in a conversation with this journalist. Assange, via WikiLeaks, also leaked stolen emails – allegedly hacked by Russia – that damaged Hillary Clinton’s candidacy ahead of the 2016 election.

The exchange never took place. Assange was eventually handed over to British authorities and the Isaías brothers remained free. Then the political winds turned.

Ecuador tried to use Florida courts to seize the brothers’ properties in Miami-Dade, worth at least $20 million, according to public documents. The brothers won at trial, when a judge found Ecuador lacked standing and dismissed the suit. But that judge was overruled by a Florida appeals court, which referred the case back to the lower court to determine what the brothers currently owe Ecuador. A new trial is scheduled for 2021.

Alvin B. Davis, an attorney for Squire Patton Boggs, who represents the Ecuadorian government, declined to comment.

In federal court in March 2019, ICE tried to evict the Isaías. But U.S. District Court Judge Kathleen Williams blocked ICE’s request, pointing out that the government had detained the couple on allegations for which the State Department “has denied multiple extradition requests.”

After several weeks at the Krome Detention Center, the residents of Coral Gables were released. And then the immigration procedure was interrupted due to COVID-19. The case remains open and the two men are awaiting a decision on their asylum application.

Brothers Roberto and William Isaías Ecuador times

Freddy Balsera, their spokesperson, made a cryptic statement when asked if the policy had taken their fate into account: “While these issues are valid and merit further analysis, we do not believe it it’s up to us to speculate on the government’s timing or intention. , given the sensitive nature of the issue.

This report has been updated to correct the state of the legal fight between the Ecuadorian government and the Isaías brothers in the United States.

This report is the result of a grant funded by the Fund for Investigative Journalism in partnership with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and el Nuevo Herald.

This story was originally published October 20, 2020 6:30 a.m.

Romina Ruiz-Goiriena is a research fellow at the Miami Herald and the El Nuevo Herald as part of a partnership between the newspaper, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Fund for Investigative Journalism. A seasoned multimedia journalist, she has worked in Paris, Cuba and Israel for France24, El Mundo and Haaretz. In 2016, she co-founded Barrio, a digital politics news outlet for Latinos. Previously, she worked for CNN from Guatemala and for the Associated Press, where she reported on key regional issues such as migration, corruption and drug trafficking. His investigative work was part of an Overseas Press Club Award team. She was also a Deadline Club Award finalist for her coverage of Hurricane Irma. For her investigation of how deported parents were lost to Central American and US authorities during the border separation crisis, which made the cover of Newsweek, Romina is the winner of the NAHJ award. Ñ ​​2019. Romina is fluent in English, Spanish, French and Hebrew.