A businessman who was singled out this week in a drug money laundering scheme involving Venezuela's vice president enjoys a luxury life in Miami, including a $3.4 million apartment which he bought with cash.
According to records obtained by Univision, Venezuelan businessman Samark López paid $4.3 million for two other apartments in the same building and had at his disposal a $9 million jet.
López was named Feb 13 by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) as the "key frontman" of Venezuelan vice presdient Tareck El Aissami.
The Treasury Department accused López of being part of a network that laundered money and gave "material assistance" to drug traffickers from Colombia, Venezuela and the Mexican cartel Los Zetas.
El Aissami, 42, has denied the accusation, which he referred to on Twitter as an "infamy" and an "imperialist" attack.
A former Minister of Interior and Justice, U.S. authorities have had their eyes on El Aissami for some time. He is hardline follower of Venezuela's deceased socialist president Hugo Chavez, and was linked to clandestine armed organizations as a forebrand student leader.
Of Syrian descent, his father headed the Venezuelan branch of the Iraqi Baath Party, while his great-uncle Shibli el-Aissami was a leading ideologue and assistant secretary-general of the Baath Party in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein.
López described himself as a successful entrepreneur and patriot working hard to bring foreign investment to Venezuela while other businessmen took their money abroad.
The State Department accuses López of "supporting international narcotics trafficking on behalf of El Aissami" and of spearheading an "international network" of 13 companies that prosecution say were involved in drug trafficking from the British Virgin Islands, Panama, Britain, the United States and Venezuela.
After the announcement, U.S. authorities seized the property in Miami and banned all U.S. commerce with their companies. Univision examined public records in the United States, Mexico and Venezuela to learn more about the companies' business activity. The most visible of these was Profit Corporation, registered in Venezuela, which has had contracts with Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA.
In an official video, López described this company as "a team of dreamers."
Public records indicate that a Gulfstream 200 jet with the license number N200VR, cited by OFAC, was purchased in 2013 from a Louisiana airline through one of companies, registered in Delaware. Both for the purchase of the plane and for the Miami registry of several of the companies, López used an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands, which was also designated by the State Department as part of the money laundering scheme.
El Aissami's alleged frontman bought the three luxury apartments in the Brickell area just off downtown Miami between 2011 and 2013, according to public records viewed by Univision. The apartments together cost $7.7 million, of which at least $ 3.4 million were paid in cash in 2013.
The three apartments are located in the Millenium tower, a luxury residential condominium. The properties were all puchased by companies managed by López.
In 2011, López bought a $1.5 million apartment in the same building. For that transaction he obtained a bank credit, according to records of the sale obtained by Univision.
A year-and-a-half later, he sold the apartment for half what he paid: $750,000. For the second transaction he again obtained a bank loan, this time with another bank. Half a year after the purchase, López's name was registered as manager of the company that purchased the apartment, making him both the owner and seller of the same property.
Contractors in Venezuela
The Treasury Department's announcement stated that El Aissami's alleged money laundering scheme included several companies that have had contracts with the Venezuelan government. The vice president's name does not appear on those company records in Venezuela, but López's does.
Among the Venezuelan companies named by the State Department is Alfa One, registered in 2006 as a provider of industrial safety services.
López is also a shareholder of Grupo Sahect, one of the government contractors mentioned as part of the money laundering scheme, which provided food for PDVAL, a Venezuelan state-owned food distribution company. Univision Investiga obtained records showing that López was also on the board of Sahect, which has a subsidiary in Miami.
This subsidiary has been inactive since 2011 and is not mentioned in the laundering scheme presented by the Treasury Department. Since 2010, the company has had contracts with Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA and the oil company's gas division.
According to López's website, Sahect was in charge of installing more than 200 kms of gas pipelines in eastern Venezuela.
The tip of the laundering scheme, according to the State Department, is the London-based company Yakima Oil Trading. This company was created in 2014 with offices in Caracas and Panama. It belongs to Yakima Trading Corporation, also located in Panama. Public records show that among its registered officers is López, as well as several of his partners in Venezuelan companies not mentioned in the Treasury Department list.
The U.S. government accusation against López is that, using his companies, drug shipments were made for the Zetas drug cartel.
Mexican customs records show Yakima Trading Corporation made at least three shipments labeled as food and building materials between Mexico and Venezuela in recent years. In 2014, according to documents obtained by Univision, the company sent at least seven tons of "milk powder" from the Mexican port of Altamira, to Texas and Venezuela.
Univision was not able to determine if these shipments contained drugs or cash, but the dates of the shipments coincide with the period covered in the U.S. indictment indicates. The port of Altamira is located in Tamaulipas, a region of heavy Zetas influence.
The same company moved several tons of food and construction materials in 2014 for PDVSA between Panama and Puerto Cabello in Venezuela.