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Top UN official refutes Venezuela corruption allegations

The director general of the UN’s migration agency, António Vitorino, denies wrongdoing in a €35 million Spanish anti-corruption case.

The Simón Bolívar international bridge between Venezuela and Colombia.
The Simón Bolívar International Bridge between Venezuela and Colombia. (Bram Ebus/TNH)

The head of the UN’s migration agency is caught up in a multi-million-euro corruption and money-laundering case in Spain. António Vitorino, the director general of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), denies wrongdoing.

According to Spanish newspaper El Mundo, corruption investigators allege that a consultancy firm owned by Vitorino and his wife was involved in handling some of the €35 million diverted from Venezuelan state oil and gas company PDVSA about 10 years ago.

The former head of PDVSA, Juan Carlos Márquez, was found hanged in Madrid last July shortly after arriving in Spain to give evidence to investigators.

The case, according to El Mundo, alleges that Raúl Morodo, Spain’s ambassador to Venezuela from 2004-2007, and his son fraudulently took funds from PDVSA in collaboration with Márquez and another Venezuelan. The money was then funnelled via front companies and banks in Panama, Switzerland, and Spain to his son, Alejo Morodo, the two Venezuelan accomplices, and their wives. 

According to El Mundo, Vitorino’s Portugal-registered firm – Emab Consultores, Lda – is alleged to have received payments connected to the affair from the Morodo family, that were allegedly “lacking any commercial logic and justification" and were "hidden from the Spanish treasury".

Vitorino was elected head of the IOM in June 2018 and took up the post that October. The IOM is one of the largest UN humanitarian agencies, with a staff of about 11,000 and a budget of $1.8 billion in 2018. His role includes steering IOM during the humanitarian response to the crisis in Venezuela, where an economic meltdown has led to the emigration of millions.

In a statement received by email on Tuesday, following questions from TNH, Vitorino said he had not been informed officially and denied any connection to the affair.

“I herewith clarify that I have not received at any time, any communication from the Spanish authorities related to an investigation involving a consultancy company I was a managing partner of, and whose activities have been suspended since 2018,” Vitorino said.

“Never were these services related with Venezuela, which means that it is absolutely incorrect to establish a connection between the company and an alleged embezzlement of Euro 35 million as referred to in the news,” the statement continued.

“I firmly refute the allegations made in this respect and intend to use all means at my disposal to restore my reputation, the reputation of my wife as well as the reputation of the company.”

Payments made between 2008 and 2012 from PDVSA under fictitious invoices were routed to bank accounts and companies controlled by the Morodo family and the wives of Márquez and the other Venezuelan, Carlos Adolfo Prada. About €14 million went to property, and other funds were withdrawn as cash and are untraced, according to El Mundo.  

Prior to leading the IOM, Vitorino served as deputy to UN Secretary-General António Guterres when the latter was prime minister of Portugal. Vitorino’s political career was interrupted when he was accused – but later cleared – of tax evasion in 1997. He was subsequently an EU commissioner, from 1999 to 2004. 

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