Holy Grail!! Venezuelan conmen dupe Lucky Igbinedion of N3.3bn

Nemesis may have finally caught up with ex-convict and former Governor of Edo State,
Lucky Igbinedion, as he has lost over N3.3 billion to Venezuelan fraudsters, in a deal
that bears all the marks of a classic 419 scam, Premium Times can authoritatively
Court documents seen by Premium Times also suggest that Mr. Igbinedion may be
insolvent, as two US-based law firms have walked away from a $600 million lawsuit he
instituted against the alleged mastermind and the Venezuelan state owned oil company,
Petroleos De Venezuela S.A (PDVSA), over his inability to pay retainer as low as
N627,000.00 ($3,800.00).
Mr. Igbinedion plundered Edo State treasury for the eight years he was governor. He
escaped jail after he reached a controversial plea bargain agreement with the Farida
Waziri-led Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, which dropped all but one
of the 191 charges of corruption and money laundering against him.
In 2008, a Federal High Court in Enugu sentenced him to six months in prison with the
option of a N3.5 million fine. The controversial plea bargain agreement he reached with
the EFCC also required that he return N500 million and three of the houses he acquired
with stolen public funds to the Federal Government.
But it’s not yet Uhuru for Mr. Igbinedion as the Court of Appeal in Benin ruled on April 9,
2014 that he has a case to answer over a fresh 66-count money laundering and
financial impropriety suit brought against him by the EFCC. A Federal High Court had
ruled in 2011 that it would amount to double jeopardy and abuse of court process to try
him again after the plea bargain he entered with the EFCC.
He has been accused of stealing over N3 billion from Edo State’s treasury.

Two of a kind: James Ibori (left), Lucky Igbinedion (right). Both are confirmed thieves.
Classic 419-scam
In 2006, looking to cash in on the lucrative but fraud-tainted fuel importation business,
the ex-governor’s front and Managing Director of Skanga Energy and Marine Limited, a
company formed by Mr. Igbinedion and his brother, Bright, in 1992, Christian
Imoukhuede, approached the then Venezuelan Trade Consul to Nigeria, Enrique Arrundell,
about the prospect of importing petrol, aviation fuel, and diesel from the South American
According to documents filed with a US District Court in New York, Mr. Arrundell advised
Mr. Imoukhuede that the best way to get fuel was to go through a PDVSA approved
Mr. Arrundell then introduced Mr. Imoukhuede to Arevenca, a fraudulent firm owned by
alleged notorious Venezuelan conman, Francisco Gonzalez.
That meeting with Mr Gonzalez marked the beginning of Mr Igbinedion’s woes.
Mr. Igbinedion and his front, Mr. Imoukhuede claimed in court that they did due diligence
checks on Arevenca through the Venezuelan embassy in Abuja. They claim that embassy
officials confirmed Arevenca as a reputable Venezuelan business concern and validated
documents provided by Arevenca that supposedly showed a relationship with PDVSA.
But it has since turned out that Arevenca might be a complete fraud. PDVSA has since
said in court that it has no records of any relationship with Arevenca.
Arevenca is a registered corporation under Venezuelan law but was most recently
headquartered in Aruba. Its subsidiaries are: Arevenca AKTM, registered in British Virgin
Islands; Arevenca SL, registered in Spain; and Arevenca Aruba Holding NV.
Others are Arevenca Bank, Arevenca Foundation, Fly Aruba Suriname, Arevenca Mining
and Arevenca Petroleum Company registered in offshore tax haven, Suriname. There is
Arevenca Finances Holding registered in Switzerland and Arevenca Ivory Coast.
Many of these subsidiaries are shell companies or exist only in names.
A Canadian-based freelance journalist, Steven Bodzin, who worked as an energy reporter
in Venezuela and has written a number of exposés on Arevenca, revealed that Arevenca’s
website is a repository of mind-numbing lies meant to hoodwink mostly unsuspecting
international investors.
For instance, on its website, Arevenca claims to have a global refining capacity of 2.5
million barrels per day and plans to build a two million barrel per day refinery in Ivory
It also claims to have a fleet of 72 ships.
However, the company with the highest refining capacity in the world as at September
2013, Reliance Jamnagar Refinery, India, has a refining capacity of only 1.24 million
barrels per day.
In fact, Arevenca is not listed among the top ten refineries in the world. The only
Venezuela-based refinery in the top 10, Paraguana Refining Centre, belongs to PDVSA
and has a processing capacity of just 955,000bpd.
And despite claiming to have 75 vessels, a PREMIUM TIMES search on Lloyds Ship
Directories shows that Arevenca does not operate from any of Venezuelan’s 16 ports.
There is also no proof that the company is building a two million barrel per day refinery
in Ivory Coast as it claimed.
These are just few of the web of lies contained in Arevenca’s website. Other false claims
made by the company to defraud investors can be found on Mr. Bodzin’s blog.
In October 2006, Mr. Imoukhuede, who was Mr. Igbinedion’s schoolmate, arrived at the
Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas and was ushered into the VIP lounge of
the facility and later given a luxury ride to the exquisite InterContinental Tamanaco,
rated among the top three hotels in the country.
It was at Intercontinental Tamanaco that Mr. Imoukhuede had initial negotiation with Mr.
Gonzalez and an unnamed Nigerian.
After the meeting, Skanga reached a tentative agreement to buy “petroleum products”
from Arevenca. Arevenca also agreed to give Skanga the first right of refusal to buy its
AGO (diesel), PMS (premium motor spirit) DPK (kerosene), Jet Al fuel, Bitumen and Fuel
The deal was to take off with a 35,000 metric tones of AGO in the first instance and then
grow into about three cargoes monthly, according to an official statement by Skanga.
Bank transfer documents show that Skanga paid $1.05 million of the $1.4 million cost
of freight.
Skanga’s officials claimed during interrogation in court that their company made these
payments ($580,000 and $470,000) based on the proof of certain “inducement
documents which included an alleged PDVSA bill of lading.
After Skanga made these initial payments, it became trapped. The duping of the former
governor and his corrupt clan began in full swing.
Igbinedion goes to Caracas
In January 2007, four months before the expiration of his governorship term, Mr.
Igbinedion travelled to Caracas, ostensibly on an official visit and possibly lavishing Edo
state money on the deal. But our investigations indicate the visit was to put finishing
touches to the deal earlier reached by his front three months earlier.
According to the Bolivarian News Agency (ABN), Mr. Igbinedion and his entourage were
purportedly met by some of the influential “Chavista” politicians in the country, as
supporters of the late Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chávez, are called: the Mayor of Central
Caracas, Freddy Bernal, the Governor of Miranda, Diosdado Cabello, and Deputy Foreign
Minister for Africa, Reinaldo Bolívar as well as other top Venezuelan government officials
and businessmen.
It was an elaborate event accompanied by lavish photo op, expensive alcohol and dinner
in the evening at the “Gran Melia Hotel, another top three luxury hotel in Venezuela,
according to luxury hotel reservations website, Five Star Alliance.
Mr. Igbinedion was handed the key to the city of Caracas and announced as the
“Alcaldía de Libertador”, the honorary Mayor of the central Caracas borough of
Libertador. He also held a meeting with top officials of the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry
at their headquarters, the Yellow House.
But the whole fanfare was a grand charade and part of a well orchestrated confidence
trick put together by some of the most devious conmen in Latin America.
It later appeared that Mr. Gonzalez received an intensive course on Nigerian niceties.
Emails from Mr. Arrundell and Gonzalez to Mr. Igbinedion have that uniquely Nigerian
informality. Rather than write in a formal manner as one would have expected of parties
in a multi-million dollar deal, they addressed Mr. Igbinedion as “My brother Lucky” or
“Dear brother Lucky.”
One letter by Mr. Gonzalez, filled with grammatical errors, reads:
Dear brother lucky
I already send the dignity signed invoice. You know what this mean. Nobody do this, but
I always honored my word, agins all the logical and normal status. I prefer died that do
not honored my word. This is another demonstration that I am a honor man. That mean
that the product is yours. I trust you like a brother I hope you do not let me down. I do
not want disappoint you, I hope you do not disappoint me.
Best regards, You brother and friend
Francisco JAvier Gonzalez
The geniality of Mr. Gonzalez’s letters coupled with the grand reception, some would say
deception, he got during his “official” visit to Caracas apparently made Mr. Igbinedion
even more trusting of the Venezuelan gang.
Nigerian thief, money launderer, is scammed
After a couple of other meetings later that year, Arevenca made Skanga a deal too good
to be true: a consignment of 35,000 metric tonnes of diesel will be sent to Skanga.
All it needed to do was to prepay the charges for delivery and complete the full payment
for the delivery in three months.
Mr. Igbinedion could not believe his luck. Skanga promptly transferred $19.6 million
more to Arevenca’s Swiss bank account as freight charges and partial payment for two
consignments of Petrol and diesel aboard two vessels named “Digniti” and “Ventur.”
The vessels never arrived.
The Nigerian Port Authority said it does not have any record of “Digniti” or “Ventur”
entering Nigerian waters at the time it was billed to arrive.
In fact, PREMIUM TIMES investigation reveals that there are no vessels named “Dignitii”
or “Ventur”.
Searches on Lloyds directories and other ship directories show that the ship don’t exist
anywhere in the world.
All efforts made to contact the Venezuelan embassy to confirm the extent to which Mr.
Arrundell, who has been posted out of the country, was involved in the scam was
The embassy’s phone number seems to be out of order and emails were returned as
Mr. Imoukhuede declined to comment when contacted by PREMIUM TIMES. He explained
that since the case is in court, Skanga’s lawyer was in the best position to make public
comments on the matter.
“You know the case is in court. I don’t think I am at ease to talk about it. I would have
to talk to the lawyer. I can’t make any comment. The Nigerian legal system is different
from the American system. The best thing is to talk to Femi Salu,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The remaining parts in this series will look at courtroom intrigues; how
two of Igbinedion’s American counsel abandoned the case due to his inability to pay
their retainer.
A part will look at the role played by MRS Oil Nigeria Limited plus interesting revelations
in court while another will take a look at the role of the Venezuelan authorities in the
entire scam.

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Write by: Dj Donk - Monday, April 28, 2014

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