Andrónico Luksic landed on a private plane in Asunción together with the senior staff of the Quiñenco Group, including former Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter. From there he moved to the house of the former president of that country, Horacio Cartes. The meeting lasted three hours and the delegation immediately returned to Santiago. Cartes was included three weeks ago by the United States in the list of “significantly corrupt” persons and his name appears in the plot of the Venezuelan-Iranian plane seized in Buenos Aires. He accumulates investigations for corruption and money laundering in Panama, Brazil and Paraguay. He is a partner of Luksic in the distribution of fuels and in the production of beverages and beers.
On July 22, the United States Department of State reported that the former Paraguayan president and prominent businessman from that country, Horacio Cartes, had been included in the list of “significantly corrupt” persons. The North American country canceled his visa, and also that of his direct relatives, and froze their accounts
In a statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Cartes of obstructing a transnational crime investigation involving one of his associates: “This allowed Horacio Cartes to continue participating in corrupt activities, including his ties to terrorist organizations and other entities sanctioned by the United States.”
Three weeks after the sanction was communicated, Andrónico Luksic, in the company of four members of the Quiñenco Group’s senior staff, landed in Asunción on a private plane this Saturday, August 6, and met for nearly three hours with Horacio Cartes in his mansion located on Avenida España, one of the most exclusive in the Paraguayan capital.
What transpired was that the top executives of the Luksic Group went to Paraguay to ask for explanations about the accusation made by the United States against Cartes. At the meeting, a detailed review of the accounting records and contracts of the businesses they maintain together was also requested. This is a complex issue for the group led by Andrónico Luksic, because the investment they maintain in Paraguay is considered relevant to the finances of the holding company.
Cartes’s situation is not easy, because in addition to the US sanction, his name is being monitored in the case of the Venezuelan-Iranian plane that has been detained for months in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In May of this year, that aircraft was in Paraguay to transport cigarettes valued at US$790,000, which were owned by a Cartes tobacco company, to Aruba.
Although the accusation of the United States authorities was only known two weeks ago, Cartes has been under investigation for corruption and money laundering for much longer. In 2019, an investigation was opened in Brazil for the Lava Jato case. He also faces inquiries in Paraguay and Panama because last year the Pandora Papers series of reports revealed a company that he had opened in that Central American country and that he kept hidden for ten years, without including it in his declaration of assets when he was president. Despite this background, the Luksic Group had shown no concern about the accusations faced by its partner.
Cartes and Luksic have been partners since December 2013, when the Chilean businessman bought 50.01% of the company Bebidas del Paraguay and 49.9% of Distribuidora del Paraguay, until then operated exclusively by the Cartes business group, who a few months earlier he had become the president of the Paraguayans.
The alliance deepened in 2019, when Cartes had left the country’s government, and the Luksic Group bought 50% of Gasur from him, transforming it into Enex Paraguay, which is dedicated to the distribution of fuels and the sale of products through the Oops stores! According to the 2021 reports of Quiñenco and CCU, Luksic’s investment in Paraguay, in alliance with Cartes, exceeds US$38 million.
At the end of 2019, the Brazilian justice issued an arrest warrant against Cartes for his possible involvement in the Lava Jato case, due to his links with Dario Messer, one of the protagonists of the largest corruption scandal on the continent. The ABC Color newspaper, which worked with CIPER on this report, has published that Messer would be the partner involved in a “transnational crime” plot, mentioned in the accusation made by the United States.
In this process, Cartes is accused of money laundering and criminal organization. In 2019, the Brazilian Federal Police said it had detected that the former president hid some $20 million, of which $17 million was in a bank in the Bahamas.
After an appeal to the Brazilian Supreme Court, the order was lifted, although since then Cartes has avoided leaving his country. on the recommendation of his lawyer. The fear he has is that as soon as he leaves Paraguay, an arrest warrant will be issued. The accusation of the United States came to worsen his outlook. That explains why Andrónico Luksic had to travel to Asunción to meet with him.
At 11:45 a.m. on Saturday, the Cessna 750 Citation aircraft landed in Asunción, transporting Quiñenco’s entourage from Santiago, led by Andronicus Luksic. He was accompanied by the top executives of his holding company: the former Minister of the Interior and current legal manager, Rodrigo Hinzpeter; the current general manager and former president of the AFP Association, Jose Francisco Perez Mackenna; the general manager of CCU, Patrick Jottar Nasrallah; and the general manager of Enex, Nicholas Correa Ferrer.
According to the Paraguayan newspaper ABC Colora delegation of three vehicles took the group from the airport to the Cartes mansion in Barrio Carmelitas, in Asunción.
Quiñenco Group delegation landing in Asuncion (Kindly: ABC Color).
The meeting lasted about three hours and Quiñenco responded to CIPER that they would not comment on the surprising meeting. At the end of the appointment, Luksic and his entourage immediately boarded the plane and returned to Santiago. Around 3:30 p.m. this Saturday, the group left the Cartes mansion and just an hour later left Paraguay from the Silvio Pettirossi airport.
THE COMPANIES THAT LINK LUKSIC AND CARTES
Through the company Invex CCU Tres, the Luksic Group owns 50.01% of Bebidas del Paraguay and 49.96% of Distribuidora del Paraguay. The other half is held by Cartes companies. Through these companies they distribute “beer, mineral and flavored water, juices, nectars, soft drinks, wines and sports drinks” in the country, as indicated in the 2021 report of Quiñenco, the parent company of the Luksic holding company.
They also have the licenses to distribute the Heineken, Schneider, Amstel, Sol, Paulaner and Kunstmann brands in Paraguay. And together they produce the Saxony craft beer, intended for customers premium.
In 2021, the company Distribuidora del Paraguay recorded losses of $533 million and the company Bebidas del Paraguay, profits of $1.25 billion. The valuation of the Luksic’s participation in these businesses reaches US$27 million.
The other business they run together with Cartes is fuel distribution. Until the end of 2021, they managed 55 service stations under the Enex brand, together with their respective Upa! stores. As indicated by Quiñenco in its last report presented to the Commission for the Financial Market (CMF), in 2022 they expected to open another 40 stations.
Luksic’s investment in Enex Paraguay is valued at $10.3 billion. In 2021 they had revenues of $35.9 billion, and a net loss of $949 million.
TAX HAVENS, IRANIAN PLANE AND CORRUPTION
In November 2011 Horacio Cartes created a company off shore in Panama: Dominicana Acquisitions, which he hid during the entire time he was president of Paraguay (2013 – 2018). He only rectified his financial statements in October 2021, when he received questions from the global journalistic consortium that released the Pandora Papers. In that rectification, his assets increased from US$196 million to US$490 million.
That cost him Paraguay and Panama initiate investigations against him, which are added to the investigation in Brazil for his participation in Lava Jato, and to the background that has appeared in an investigation in Argentina about the plane with Iranian and Venezuelan crew members that passed through several Latin American countries and that since June 8 he has been held in Buenos Aires.
One of the plane’s pilots, the Iranian Gholamreza Ghasemi, has been identified as a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The Argentine justice is investigating the entire crew: 14 Venezuelans and five Iranians.
That plane, owned by Emtrasur, a subsidiary of the Venezuelan state company Conviasa, was in Paraguay between May 13 and 16, and left for Aruba loaded with 79 tons of Ibiza brand cigarettes, manufactured by the Tabacalera del East (Tabesa), owned by Horacio Cartes.
The Anti-Corruption Minister of Paraguay, René Fernández, He pointed out that “we believe that the commercial operation was a facade of another activity”. At the end of June he filed a complaint for “terrorist association” and “financing of terrorism.”
Now, the accusation made by the United States worsens his outlook. It contains five points. They accuse him of participating in “significant acts of corruption”; obstructing “a major international investigation into transnational crime to protect himself and his criminal associate from possible prosecution and political harm”; of undermining “the stability of Paraguay’s democratic institutions by contributing to the public perception of corruption and impunity within the office of the President of Paraguay”; for enabling and perpetuating “the recently documented involvement of Cartes with foreign terrorist organizations and other entities designated by the United States, thereby undermining the security of the United States against transnational crime and terrorism”; and a “threat to regional stability”.