The Paraguayan Trap

Marc Didier, in Tacumbu, area of Asunción.
On August 17th, 2016, news about the dismantling of a criminal network of smugglers of 485 kilograms of gold in Paraguay went around the world; it was too good to be true and no one questioned it: gold bars worth $22 million, in boxes only bearing the label of the Mexican company Samano S.A. of C.V., located in the main customs area at Silvio Petirossi Airport in Asuncion, and with no one claiming custody!

Such a situation could make even the scandals that hit the administration daily be forgotten. Actually, the owners of Samano and their Paraguayan partners always knew this multimillion-dollar contraband was really just scrap metal.

The only one claiming since the beginning it wasn’t gold is still in Paraguay waiting to have all charges dismissed. Marc Didier, a Belgian citizen, has been living as a resident in the United States for more than 37 years. He was arrested for being the owner of a Gulfstream III that was leased for a demo flight. In we underwent an investigation with exclusive documents from a concrete case about the complexities of asset laundering, their internal scams, their international links and the unbelievably corrupt Paraguayan justice system. The prosecutor for Paraguay’s Division of Economic Crimes lied deliberately to protect the Mexican connection once the internal fraud was unveiled.

From Asuncion. ©Teresita Dussart. Adaptated from Spanish. All rights of reproduction reserved.

Video in which we observe José Salazar Tinajero advertising his fake gold bars between June 14th and 18th, 2016. The scale is the same one used and that can be seen within the garage known as “Minero San Cayetano.” On the luggage rack (left picture) there’s a suitcase with metal bars as can be observed, but the ones showing on the scale are the brightest.

The most important question of the story is: between June 15th and 20th, 2016, when José Salazar Tinajero, the CEO of the Samano S.A of C.V. corporation, based in Reynosa (Tamaulipas, Mexico), is weighing gold bars in a scale, inside a room at the Crown Plaza Asuncion hotel, does he know they’re fake? That same week, the Mexican man born in Tamaulipas signs a contract with the company Allianz S.A. owned by Carlos Gustavo O’Higgins. The purpose of the contract is to export gold. This piece of information is very important because, in his conclusions, the Prosecutor of the Division of Economic Crimes, Aldo R. Cantero Colmán, claims explicitly that Salazar was never in Asuncion before the smuggling situation in August, hence, he cannot be held accountable within case 611/16 (despite being the CEO of the company signing all the papers, which is not a minor detail either). However, immigration data that we could collect show that José Salazar entered Paraguayan territory on June 15th and left on June 20th with his shadow, also Tamaulipas-born Juan Carlos Jaramillo García, and his lieutenant, the Dominican Manuel Portes.

Immigration document with Salazar’s entry registry in the country, which the prosecutor Dr. Cantero Colmán cannot disregard and which shows that he is lying.

Salazar leaves Guarani territory on June 20th, according to immigration data, and he comes back on board the Gulfstream III, with registration N111FA on August 4th. The three men stayed at the Crown Plaza Asuncion hotel from June 14th until June 18th, according to the hotel reservations made. Therefore, the prosecutor lies when he says that Salazar couldn’t have known anything about the preparation of the bars because he was never in Asuncion at the time previously, but still, he manages with that argument, to convince the judge to rule on the definite dismissal of all charges of the smugglers band’s leader, on December 12th, 2016.

The company owned by Mr. O’Higgins is contracted by Samano S.A of C.V. to manage all the paperwork for the export of the metals. So is stated in the contract written in Spanish. But that’s not the only contract signed by Salazar. On June 21st, also in Asuncion, he signs a contract in English with Odelio Toledo, this same boasting to be the “CEO” of a company pompously named “Mineria San Cayetano” from Villarica, a city known for being rich in gold reserves in the southern portion of Paraguay.

To the left, a picture of the gold bars at Odelio Toledo’s “Mineria San Cayetano.”
  To the right at Odelio Toledo’s house, we find the same
scale used by Salazar at the Crown Plaza in Asunción. The gold bars seem to be the same as those seen at the Crown Plaza as well as the ones found at the Silvio Petirossi airport custom offices, as an irrefutable proof as a single criminal unit acting.

It might sound strange that Samano signs on June 18th a contract with an agent in charge to market the metals when in fact the contract with the supplier has not even closed yet. But it is pure staging. The only company having permission for the mining of gold in Paraguay is the Canadian Latin American Minerals Paraguay known as Lampa. What serves as Mineria San Cayetano is no more that Aurelio Toledo’s garage, as it was found during the judicial search of the premises. In his house, where found other handmade bars with the same metal alloys and finishing as from those found at the Customs office on August 5th, 2016.

That contract is countersigned by two crooks who act as Salazar’s witnesses: the individual known as Manuel Portes Medina, a Dominican citizen, and Leonice Fátima Schenkel, a Brazilian citizen. Two people who are intricately involved in the fraud scheme. Portes visits Toledo’s house with a car rented by Salazar; they simply cannot ignore the origin of the metals. It is unthinkable that Salazar, himself, considering that he wants to acquire gold with a market value of $22 million dollars, has not gone in person to visit the “mine,” taking into account that it’s the purpose of his presence in Paraguay. If he didn’t do it, it’s because the deal wasn’t for gold, but for something to look like gold.

The intention of defrauding or scamming the clients in Hong Kong with fake gold – and maybe even to third parties – as part of a sophisticated money laundering scheme, of which till today only serious assumptions are made, is backed up by all the Salazar and Portes actions. The latter (Portes) was contacted by this journalist via Whatsapp, on March 14th 2017. Portes is still under arrest at Tacumbú Prison in Asuncion. When did he realize it wasn’t gold? He replied: “Since the beginning. We always knew we were buying bronze.” And it’s true, they always knew. However, until the breaking of the relations with Mr. O’Higgins’ company “Allianz,” the parties always talk about “gold” in their official e-mails.

 Salazar at the Crown Plaza in June

On the other hand, the video, which had access to, also recorded at the Crown Plaza, shows Portes making some kind of advertising spot of some metal bars, with a device that is shown as a gold detector but it’s actually just a gadget. The strange thing about Portes’ case is that in his statement he claimed to have never met Salazar in person. However, in Salazar’s phone there were pictures of both of them among much more information obtained.

So much proof and evidence and the Prosecutor Cantero Colmán manages to ignore it all. He acts not as a public defender but as Salazar’s lawyer. He has no doubt when writing in his concluding remarks regarding the release of Salazar: “that from the circumstances as related it is clear … that there is no authoritative evidence which can connect [Salazar with Portes], hence, he has not participated in the punishable act investigated.”

The only reason for having the contract with Toledo’s company in English, is to show it to the clients in Hong Kong. It’s all part of the staging of the fraud. The Paraguayan Gold fever feeds itself from the various smuggling channels, powered by corruption, in the state of Guairá. Curiously enough, no inquiry seemed to have ever been made in relation to the designated buyers of what could have been contraband gold, if they hadn’t found more scammers than them in the way. Little is known about the company He Meng Int’l Group Ltd. located in Kowloon (Hong Kong), and Mr. Wu Guixiang. Salazar wasn’t asked about them. Technically, if the smuggling had been done, then He Meng would have been the final benefactor of the operation. Obviously, nobody from the Chinese side knows that the only prior license that accompanied the gold bars, issued by the Ministry of Industry and Trade, describes 12 units of bronze (500 kilograms) and not gold.

That certificate was issued on behalf of Cristal Esteño S.A., the chosen exporter by Portes and Schenkel, Salazar’s voice in Paraguay, after the breakup with O’Higgins. The Prosecution didn’t consider something outrageous as the fact that Samano S.A of C.V. signed three contracts (He Meng, San Cayetano Mining and with Allianz) for the extraction, sale and exportation of gold, when all the documentation of the metals that he is purchasing relate to bronze.

The breakup with O’Higgins is critical and is the one aspect that allows the Crystal Esteno company from Ciudad del Este to enter the game. Between July 5th and 17th, 2016, O’Higgins and the potential subcontractors, such as Prosegur, demanded documentation. In an e-mail dated July 7th of that year, the sales director from All Way Cargo asks Portes for “copies of the documents that support the purchase and sale operations of the goods, that is, their origin. Example in case, the contract between Allianz and Odelio Toledo, and the contract between Allianz and its client in Hong Kong. Certificate of origin and destination points of the cargo to be transported.

On July 6th, to accompany the “gold” cargo of USD $22,965,000, all documents are missing. It is impossible to issue bills of lading, hiring security or bulletproof cars, and, in a general way, proceed to the attention that such convoy would demand. It’s important, not because of the fact that it’s smuggling, but because it’s not gold. And they, the members of the fraud, know it. Salazar is copied in most emails between Allianz and Portes, but he doesn’t fear – as any company head would – before such a high-risk operation that is going through such obstacles. On August 1st, 2016, Portes makes a fatal mistake: he brutally breaks relations with O’Higgins for breach of contract. Actually, it’s not Portes who breaks it; he doesn’t have such authority since he’s not the contracting party. The one who breaks the contract is Salazar (through Portes).

Now they Only Talk about Bronze

From now we read in the emails, that gold is no longer mentioned, but bronze is the new element. It’s clear for the scammers that they won’t be able to smuggle fake gold and pass it as gold, because it needs documents. They cannot take the bars out in a commercial flight so we see a change of strategy: Schenkel and Portes are going to use the billing of another company, Cristal Esteño, from Ciudad del Este, involved in all sorts of smuggling and drug trafficking. It’s been a month since Salazar’s trip to Asuncion. They decide to rent a private jet since it’s impossible to enter scrap as gold in a commercial flight. Portes has the contact of Marc Didier, who is known in the mining and aviation sectors. Marc Didier, although born in Belgium, has lived in the United States for 37 years, where he manages the company Best Aircraft Deals LLC who owns the Gulfstream (N111FA) in the state of Florida. At this point, the owner of the Gulfstream is, a priori, unaware of all the wrongdoings of the previous weeks and of the intentions of all the parties, which where never communicated to Didier under any circumstances, according to the data collected during the investigation. Didier actually tells them in various occasions and write in a whastapp that he cannot produce the Air Waybill and that he cannot act as a means of transportation for commercial cargo of value. According to Didier he is deceived by Portes and Salazar who claim to have the intention of buying the plane and that for this, they need a demo flight.

The contract with Samano S.A of C.V and Best Aircraft Deals LLC is presented on July 19th 2016, and on the 30th the wire from the contracting client (Samano) is received. They were paid $325,000 for a certain amount of operating hours and an open itinerary. Before initiating the charter demo flight, Marc Didier sends the copies of the Mexican passports of Salazar and his two partners, Juan Carlos Jaramillo García and Juan Ignacio Ontivero Muñóz, to the Department of Homeland Security which confirms that they are all “clean.” There is evidence of this in the judicial file.

When this journalist asked Marc Didier what was the point in Salazar renting an aircraft for $325,000 plus all expenses incurred to potentially transport scrap metal bars, he replied: “There are two hypotheses. One, Salazar comes here; he is defrauded by local criminals, which could be Cristal Esteño or any other of the Paraguayans who were involved. They show him one thing, they deliver another. The second hypothesis is that Mr. Salazar and Portes knew and they were co-conspirators with the same scammers  from Paraguay with the purpose of sending a legal delivery to go through Customs with what was bronze, without generating suspicion, and supporting this export later on with documents of a gold export and then entering financial markets with something that looked like gold, and backed up by Customs documentation, from the Ministry of Trade, and Ministry of Mines. Those documents were produced and do exist. We know that the issuing of such documents from those ministries was paid for and made to appear as a totally legal cargo. So, they rent a private plane to eliminate any suspicions that it was not loaded with gold as nobody would doubt the value of the cargo, because anyone that spends close to USD $500,000 or more would never load $1000 dollars’ worth of scrap metal. It makes no sense at all. Either he was deceived or he is part of a fraud.”

During the time that Didier shared a jail cell with the Mexicans and Portes, he knows that there is no animosity between them (Mexicans and Portes), given that, from the beginning, they all worked in the same scam, of which the Prosecutor Mr. Colman prefers to refer fake gold as “supposed gold.”

Mr. Colman managed to muster a surreal text in which he concludes: “Although it is true that there are some documents signed by Mr. José Salazar Tinajero, in good faith with Mr. Aurelio Toledo, supposed miner, there is a demand for Mr. Toledo to produce some documents with the purpose of exporting specifically gold, and not bronze, a transaction he could never realize.” The Prosecutor signed for the release and dismissal of the case against Salazar on December 12th because (Salazar) couldn’t “complete” the smuggling of fake metal bars, the very same reason why the accusations were initially made. Toledo, on his side, is euphemistically called “supposed” miner, when the case file clearly demonstrates the type of “mining” activity that he carried out.

A week after that extraordinary dismissal of Salazar, the Belgian man, who hasn’t signed or finalized anything even close to Salazar and who has no relationship whatsoever to the supposed “miner,” is still in Paraguay under investigation and arrest and ongoing now for nearly eight months in a first cause with charges of “smuggling” and now since December another one for “fraud” which has been added (preceding just for a few days Salazar’s dismissal). The opening of this new cause has no new elements and they are no different from the ones exposed in the contraband case. It’s a duplication of the first cause of action with the same documented facts, all overwhelming evidence against the party that was dismissed (Jose Salazar). In that corrupted hell, Marc Didier, on his side, hasn’t seen his eight children, six of them biological and two adopted, and his five grand-children in all this time.

Every week that passes by, he meets different characters who claim to be able to fix “the issue” in a week if he is willing to pay a bribe. The only thing he wants is justice. Although Didier business history is far to be crystal clear, in this case, he appears by all means to be the victim of a fraud and a colossal masquerade of impunity, for some reason, in favor of José Salazar.


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Categorías:Corrupción, Estados Unidos, Latin America

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