04 Aug 2021
For the past decade, wealthy Venezuelan Naman Wakil has traveled the globe for business deals while living with his family in a $3.5 million Coconut Grove condominium overlooking Biscayne Bay.
On Tuesday morning, federal agents arrested Wakil in a vast money laundering conspiracy case accusing him of making an illicit fortune off hundreds of millions of dollars in food and oil contracts with the Venezuelan government and then diverting some of the tainted money into Miami-Dade’s luxury real estate market.
Wakil has been charged in the United States because authorities say he invested his illegal profits from the government deals in the family’s condo at the Residences at Vizcaya on Hiawatha Avenue in Coconut Grove as well as in high-rise units on Brickell Avenue in downtown Miami and at the Porsche Design Tower in Sunny Isles Beach, among other property assets.
Wakil’s defense attorney, Stephen Binhak, declined to comment. Wakil, 59, is expected to have his first appearance in federal court on Wednesday.
Wakil’s arrest was made by Homeland Security Investigations, which has been at the forefront of Venezuelan corruption and money laundering cases in Miami.
Wakil is the latest member of Venezuela’s politically connected business class who has been accused in Miami federal court of exploiting cozy relationships with senior officials in the governments of past President Hugo Chavez and current President Nicolas Maduro to enrich themselves through inflated government contracts, lucrative loans and currency exchange schemes. Most of their money has ended up in Swiss and other foreign bank accounts, along with investments in South Florida real estate.
The embezzlement of billions of dollars from Venezuela’s socialist government, particularly from its main cash source, the national oil company known as PDVSA, has contributed to the South American nation’s drastic economic collapse, forcing millions of people to flee to neighboring countries and the United States, U.S. authorities say.
Wakil, a Syrian-born entrepreneur, gained some notoriety in 2016 when he was featured in a McClatchy series on the Panama Papers scandal that exposed secret shell companies set up in off-shore bank accounts by the wealthy clients of a Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca. The accounts were set up to help the law firm’s clients hide money, make foreign investments and evade taxes, according to the McClatchy series.
In the spring of 2015, according one McClatchy story, a Miami-based Citigroup banker emailed the Panamanian law firm with an inquiry about a wealthy client who needed assistance.
Mossack Fonseca’s leaked emails identified that client as Wakil, a globetrotting entrepreneur worth about $400 million with business interests in both North Carolina and Miami. He wanted to reduce his U.S. tax liability and protect his assets from creditors, his lawyer’s memo indicates.
By Jay Weaver and Antonio Maria Delgado, Miami Herald, 3 August 2021
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