Nicolas Maduro and foreign ownership of Venezuelan media

Submitted by Alek Boyd on Mon, 10/02/2014 – Posts from INFODIO can be reprinted.  INFODIO editor @alekboyd

Nicolas Maduro was at his very best last Friday. He said: “Debería prohibirse que gente que no viva en Venezuela sea dueña de un medio de comunicación. Me parece una buena idea, hay que estudiarla“. Translation: “it should be forbidden for people who don’t live in Venezuela to own media.” Hear it from the horse’s ass’es mouth in the video below.

Maduro is an embarrassment to himself. Not four months ago, Maduro approved the sale of Cadena Capriles to Hanson Asset Management, a London investment firm:

Last Friday, the new board of Cadena Capriles, a media conglomerate that owns among other things Venezuela’s largest newspaper, announced that a company called Latam Media Holding had recently acquired Cadena Capriles. The announcement came on the back of a previous one, made roughly five months ago by former CEO and owner Miguel Angel Capriles Lopez (a.k.a. “Michu”), claiming that the group of companies had been sold. The new board informed that Latam Media Group in turn is owned by London-based Hanson Asset Management. The board is now formed by René Brillembourg Capriles, Robert Hanson, Patrick Teroerde, Manuel A. Cristóbal Saucedo, Juan Isidro Señor Boguña, Pedro Rendón Oropeza, José Antonio Gil Yépez, Diego Lepage Gimón, Ricardo Castellanos (current CEO of Cadena Capriles), Eleazar Díaz Rangel (editor of Últimas Noticias), Omar Lugo (editor of El Mundo Economía y Negocios), and Jován Pulgarín (editor of Líder).

There’s a few issues about this acquisition that merit closer attention. The first is that announcement made five months ago by former owner and CEO. At the time, Caracas was ripe with rumours about the buying party and most pointed towards Victor Vargas [chavista banker owner of Banco Occidental de Descuento (BOD)]. However Vargas declared through social media that neither him, nor his group of companies, were behind the purchase, claiming “it is untrue that BOD or Victor Vargas have purchased Cadena Capriles. It is not in our interest and it is not allowed by the Bank Law.”

In fact, article 19 of the Bank Law explicitly prohibits for banks/bankers to become involved in “communication, telecommunication and information” matters. Cadena Capriles, with its newspapers, radio and online TV ventures is, for all intents and purposes, a “communications, telecommunications and information” conglomerate.

But there’s more. Two of Victor Vargas’ trusted men sit in the new board (Diego Lepage and Pedro Rendón Mendoza). Further, the board announced that Vargas’ BOD would finance -to the tune of $79.5 million- “Cadena Capriles’ new business, products and services.”

The new owner is meant to be Latam Media Holding, a “2000 share(s) with a nominal value of U.S.A. Dollar 0.01” company incorporated in Curaçao on 26 September 2013. Latam Media Holding’s sole director is TMF Curaçao N.V., in turn a “50 share(s) with a nominal value of Antillean Guilder 1,000.00” company that acts as proxy (none of its officers are Venezuelan).

The board informed that Latam Media Holding was owned by “Hanson Group” (read Hanson Asset Management), allegedly an “English company with interests in Europe, Asia and America.” Robert Hanson, founder and CEO of Hanson Asset Management is part of the new board, as well as Patrick Teroerde, a German national working for Hanson.

According to Companies House records, Hanson Asset Management had a meagre £769,433 turnover in 2012, while total value of assets was £395,016.

There’s much speculation as to price paid for acquisition (gossip has it between $140 and $185 million). It is, therefore, surprising how a firm with such poor numbers can purchase one of Venezuela’s largest media conglomerates. But it goes further, for the Telecomms Law (article 19) limits foreign investment in the open radio and television spectrum, to persons/companies domiciled in Venezuela. As stated, Cadena Capriles operates radio and internet TV, ergo the Telecomms Law apply to some of its operations.

Finally, there’s Decree 2095, which deals with foreign investment and whose article 26 explicitly prohibits foreign ownership of “television, radio and Spanish-written newspapers”.

So what to make of this acquisition? If announcement of new board has any truth to it, how come Hanson Asset Management hasn’t uttered a peep about it? As of this writing no announcement or press release about it could be found online. A small London firm, turning less than a million quid last year, snatches Venezuela’s largest newspaper and other media companies, and it doesn’t boast about it? Nearly five months have come to pass since former CEO’s announcement and the one made by the new board last Friday, and yet no word from Hanson Asset Management.

Hanson Asset Management is an English company, its subsidiary Latam Media Holding was incorporated in Curaçao, and none of the proxies are Venezuelan. Which Venezuelan regulator approved the sale of Cadena Capriles to a foreign group in clear violation to current laws? Where did Hanson Asset Management find between $140 and $185 million to acquire Cadena Capriles? Who funded the acquisition? What due diligence did Robert Hanson et al do to ensure legitimacy of funds used in transaction? How and when will Hanson Asset Management report this acquisition? How will it appear in its books?

This manoeuvre appears to be an elaborate way to hide Cadena Capriles’ new controlling party. The head of the board, Carlos Acosta Lopez, is/has been a partner of Juan Carlos Escotet (chavista banker owner of BANESCO) who in turn is/has been a partner of Michu since Bancentro days; Rene Brillemburg is Michu’s nephew, Juan Isidro Señor Boguña is VP of a consultancy owned by Juan Antonio Giner (advisor of Michu), while Lepage and Rendon are employees of Victor Vargas.

But then, there’s über chavista and current Minister of Communications Delcy Rodriguez, claiming in private that Tareck el Aissami (chavista Governor of Aragua and former minister) is the new owner, “bankers” and businessmen being mere fronts to hide the fact.

What’s truly amazing is the near absolute radio silence about the news in the English MSM. Sign of the utter irrelevancy of Venezuela. Request for comment sent to Hanson Asset Management in London have gone unanswered. One must wonder whether they are aware of the implications of deals with el Aissami…

And it’s worth repeating: Cadena Capriles owns Venezuela’s most read newspapers, namely Ultimas Noticias and El Mundo. Given the numerous violations to current legislation, the acquisition had to be given the green light by Maduro. Chavista “banker” Victor Vargas is part of the deal (two of his trusted lieutenants sit in the new board, and Cadena Capriles staff payroll has already been moved to Vargas’ Banco Occidental de Descuento), despite explicit prohibition in the current Banking Law for bankers to own media. Hanson Asset Management is meant to own Cadena Capriles, despite explicit prohibition in current Telecomms Law and Decree 2095 for foreigners to own radio, television and newspapers printed in Spanish (Cadena Capriles operates in all three areas).

So what to make of Maduro’s statements? Sources have informed me that Maduro is actively seeking to “acquire” El Universal, the last-standing, independent national newspaper, owned by Andrés Mata (who lives in New York). Maduro, through his Minister of Information (Delcy Rodriguez), is putting out feelers to get to Mata. Maduro doesn’t have a problem with Hanson Asset Management (not more than proxies of Victor Vargas, Miguel Angel Capriles Lopez and Tareck el Aissami) owning a newspaper conglomerate that prints perhaps three times the amount of El Universal. Rather, the issue is one of gaining control of the last independent newspaper in town.