Corruption off limits on Venezuelan Internet


Alek Boyd is a UK-based Venezuelan who blogs about corruption in Venezuela on infodio.com. On 14 January, he posted the details of a lawsuit that a former US ambassador to Venezuela has filed against the partners of Derwick Associates, a Venezuelan firm accused of bribing Venezuelan officials to get contracts in the energy engineering sector. Since then, Boyd’s blog has been blocked in Venezuela.

Updated on 8 April 2014: Derwick Associates, the firm targeted in Alek Boyd’s blog post, sent Reporters Without Borders a formal response five days after we posted our article. We are posting the response here. Derwick Associates says it has nothing to do with the blocking of Boyd’s blog and that none of its shareholders has any links with the ISP Inter. When contacted by Reporters Without Borders, Boyd stood by his information, according to which members of Derwick Associates have investment links with Inter. His blog continues to be blocked within Venezuela.

Online censorship is an established fact, which is proved by the approximately 500 web pages and sites that most Venezuelan Internet users currently cannot access,” said Carlos Correa, the head of Espacio Público, an NGO that defends the right to information, on 17 March on Radio Éxitos in response to the question “can the government really censor Internet content?”

In Venezuela, Internet access is provided by a handful of companies: CANTV, Inter, Venezolana de Telecomunicación and Movilnet (a CANTV subsidiary specializing in mobile telephony). Nationalized in 2007, CANTV is the country’s main ISP, with 80% of Internet service subscriptions. Its direct access to the data provided by the Simón Bolívar national satellite, placed in orbit under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation’s supervision in 2008, gives the Venezuelan authorities a unique tool for monitoring and controlling online information.

On 12 March, which ironically was World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) notified all Venezuelan ISPs that they would henceforth have to comply with orders to block web pages with content deemed to be contrary to the government’s interests. This just officialized a practice already in place. The Venezuelan authorities have long had no compunction about censoring unwelcome information. On 13 November, they issued an order to censor around 50 websites that cover parallel exchange rates and the country’s soaring inflation.

On 14 January, Alek Boyd, a London-based Venezuelan blogger specializing in corruption in Venezuela, posted an article about the lawsuit that Otto Reich, a former US ambassador in Venezuela, has filed in New York against the leading partners of Derwick Associates, a Venezuelan company he accuses of bribing Venezuelan government officials in order to secure public contracts in the energy engineering sector.

As a result of this story, which was also covered by the websites of several well-known international media such as the and Huffington Post, Boyd’s blog, infodio.com, disappeared from the Venezuelan Internet. Inter, an ISP whose shareholders include Derwick Associates, was the first to block access to infodio.com shortly after Boyd posted his blog entry. The other telecom companies (Movistar, Digitel, Supercable and the state-owned CANTV) soon followed suit.

Boyd has been posting reports, compromising documents and opinion pieces from Britain since 2002. Although protected by distance from his country of origin, he has often been the target of threats, the frequency and violence of which have increased since a wave of street protests got under way in Venezuela in February. He also posts information sent to him by other Venezuelan bloggers who are scared to post it themselves in Venezuela.

Ever since the allegations about Derwick Associates began, many netizens and journalists have received letters from its lawyers ordering them to remove articles about the company from their websites and accusing them of defaming its owners and shareholders. But Boyd, who continues to cover the story, has not received any official letter from Derwick Associates or its lawyers.

Reporters Without Borders is reproducing Boyd’s blog post in full, and the lawsuit that former US ambassador Reich filed against Derwick Associates.

Otto Reich files amendment in lawsuit against Derwick Associates

Otto Reich files amendment in lawsuit against Derwick Associates

Submitted by Alek Boyd on Tue, 14/01/2014 - 09:58

It doesn't look pretty for Derwick Associates. Not pretty at all. Readers may recall that former U.S. President's Special Envoy for the Western Hemisphere, Otto Reich, filed a RICO lawsuit against Leopoldo Alejandro Betancourt Lopez, Pedro Trebbau Lopez and Francisco D'Agostino (of Derwick Associates's fame) in New York in July last year. When reading the claim the first time I thought "this is a looong shot..." As perhaps the blogger who's written more about Derwick Associates, I saw there were a number of claims that were very odd, not least of which that Francisco D'Agostino, a Bolichico in his own right connected to Boligarch-in-chief Victor Vargas, was part of Derwick Associates. I have gotten all registry documents related to Derwick Associates, in USA, Venezuela, Panama, Barbados, Spain and nowhere had I seen D'Agostino's name mentioned. Now in an amended claim filed yesterday, Reich argues that D'Agostino has been actively doing Derwick's bidding, and has information that only someone with intimate knowledge of Derwick's operations could have access to. Namely, D'Agostino got in touch with a "Forbes writer", to whom he sent "several text messages" and made "telephone calls", after "at least a decade" of not talking/seeing each other, and "attempted to dissuade the Forbes writer from publishing the piece" about Derwick Associates in which he was meant to be working on. The "Forbes writer" was contacted by D'Agostino, after the former had sent an email to ProEnergy Services (most probably Derwick's main and most important subcontractor) asking about its work in Venezuela and relation with Derwick. Further, D'Agostino, Reich claims, offered the "Forbes writer" Derwick's financials, contracts with the Venezuelan government and with ProEnergy Services. Now, how on earth could D'Agostino have that information, if he is not a part of Derwick Associates?

But things get more interesting. D'Agostino invited the "Forbes writer" to dinner in L.A. and offered to bring Leopoldo Alejandro Betancourt Lopez (Derwick's main man) along. Interesting, eh? A man who claims to have nothing to do with Derwick, calls a "childhood" friend, who he has not seen or spoken to in "at least a decade", and offers to reveal confidential information about Derwick, and bring Derwick's CEO to a meeting, only after this friend of his started making enquiries, as a "Forbes writer", to Derwick's main U.S. partner ProEnergy Services. Why? Mind you, if what Reich's claim is true, how will D'Agostino explain his interest in preventing publication of an article about Derwick's overprice scandal in Venezuela?

But then, the amended claim fingers FTI Consulting and Sunset Reputation for "conduct[ing] investigative-type... and reputation management" services. Readers of this site are well aware of FTI and its long time relations with the worse scum of Venezuela, but Sunset Reputation, apparently Brandon Hopkins' one-man operation, has been pumping out a lot of benign PR BS on behalf of Derwick.

Derwick Associates has also retained Volkov Group, a lobbying firm headed by Michael Volkov who blogs, wait for it, "corruption, crime and compliance". What a f%$£ joke this is.

And guess who has made an appearance in all this imbroglio? David Osio and his "bank", as well as RaFa the hacker. It's all one big, happy, thuggish, Boliburgeoise family, being helped in its criminal enterprise by none other than JP Morgan.

Hilary Kramer and her stupid white wash attempt also got a mention.

In previous communications related to the lawsuit, Derwick has claimed that New York courts haven't got jurisdiction over its affairs. However, in what can prove to be a lethal counter argument, Reich is showing that the bolichicos filed a lawsuit against Banco Venezolano de Credito (BVC), Oscar Garcia Mendoza et al in New York, and one in Florida, in September 2012. So, New York courts had jurisdiction to entertain the spurious allegations made by Derwick against BVC in 2012, but don't have jurisdiction to hear claims against them in 2013? Again, what a pathetic bunch of imbeciles. Only in Venezuela can such people become multibillionaires. It's going to be truly fascinating to learn what sort of BS they'll come up with. I'd venture a prediction: sooner, rather than later, they'll pay up to avoid further complications and exposure into its dodgy activities.

The amended claim below (I highlighted the interesting bits).

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