Venezuela arrests TV execs after US firm pulls out

DirecTV managers “voluntarily surrendered” to authorities and were held at the intelligence service headquarters in Caracas, known as El Helicoide. (AFP)
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Updated 07 June 2020

Venezuela arrests TV execs after US firm pulls out

  • DirecTV’s departure leaves two million subscribers in limbo

CARACAS: Venezuelan authorities have detained three DirecTV executives after the US-owned television service’s decision to shut operations in the South American country due to US sanctions, their lawyer said.

“I hope there is justice in this country,” Carlos Villamizar, vice president of strategy for DirecTV, told reporters before surrendering himself.

Villamizar said that he was “very, very surprised,” at the warrant issued against him and his former colleagues Hector Rivero and Rodolfo Carrano.

He was accompanied by lawyer Jesus Loreto, who said the other two managers had “voluntarily surrendered” to authorities and were being held at the intelligence service headquarters in Caracas, known as El Helicoide.

Former DirecTV employees expressed solidarity with the trio on social networks, with the hashtag #DIRECTVSomosTodos (We are DirecTV) trending on Twitter.

The arrest warrants were issued almost three weeks after AT&T announced on May 19 its “immediate” withdrawal from the pay TV market in Venezuela, where it offered the DirecTV satellite platform.

Under the terms of its pay TV license granted by President Nicolas Maduro’s government, DirectTV was obliged to carry private news network Globovision and PDVSA TV.

Texas-based AT&T said that it was forced to close the television operation because US sanctions banned the transmission of Globovision and PDVSA TV, the channel of the Venezuelan state oil company.

The three arrested executives “did not participate in what happened, they did not know what was happening,” the lawyer said.

Three days after AT&T’s decision to close operations, Venezuela’s highest court ordered the seizure of the company’s facilities and equipment. The board of directors at the company that provides the DirecTV service in Venezuela, Galaxy Entertainment, have also been barred from leaving the country.

DirecTV’s departure has left two million subscribers in limbo, with soccer fans deprived of the popular Futbol Total program, which was broadcast by DirecTV Sports for Latin America.

Under Donald Trump, Washington has been seeking to oust the leftist Maduro and the Venezuelan president, many of his top government allies and PDVSA are all subject to US sanctions.


Lebanon’s top banker linked to offshores with $100 million in assets

Updated 14 August 2020

Lebanon’s top banker linked to offshores with $100 million in assets

  • No question of criminality raised as scrutiny increases on country’s elite amid financial meltdown and Beirut explosion

DUBAI: Offshore companies linked to Lebanon’s central bank governor own assets worth nearly $100 million, a media group has said in a report, as his role in Lebanon’s economic turmoil comes under intense scrutiny.

The companies tied to Riad Salameh invested in real estate in the UK, Germany and Belgium over the past decade according to a report by a collective of European news outlets called the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a nonprofit media organization, and its Lebanese partner, Daraj.com.

The report by the Sarajevo-based OCCRP does not allege any wrongdoing by Salameh, and Reuters has not reviewed any of the documents on which the report is based.

Responding to the report, Salemeh told Reuters he had declared during a TV interview in April his net worth prior to becoming a governor in 1993 and it was $23 million.

“I have shown the supporting documents as a proof. This to eliminate doubts on the origin of my net worth and that it was prior to holding office,” he said.

He said he had previously stated that he asked professionals and trustees to manage his net worth. “The origin of my net worth is clear, this is the important matter,” he said.

Salameh, previously seen as a guarantor of financial stability in the country, has become a focus of anger for street protesters since Lebanon’s financial system collapsed earlier this year under the weight of one of the world’s biggest public debt burdens.

The report into his personal wealth comes at a sensitive time for the country, as Lebanon grapples with the aftermath of an enormous chemical explosion that devastated the capital Beirut, fueling public anger with the country’s leadership.

The OCCRP report also comes after central bank accounts seen by Reuters last month revealed that Lebanon’s central bank governor inflated the institution’s assets by over $6 billion in 2018, showing the extent of financial engineering used to help prop up the Lebanese economy.

The governor told Reuters last month that the central bank accounting was in line with policies approved by the board.

A Lebanese judge last month ordered a protective freeze on some assets held by the governor after ruling in favor of a complaint that he had allegedly undermined the financial standing of the state.

By the end of 2018, Salameh’s assets were worth more than $94 million, the report said, citing balance sheets of Luxembourg companies controlled by the governor.

Salameh said his declaration on his net worth demonstrated he was not trying to escape public scrutiny and was the proof he has “nothing to hide.”