Venezuelan Leader Opens Investigations Into Alleged Embezzlement of Funds Intended for Military Deserters

By Luke Taylor, Special to The Epoch Times
June 18, 2019 Updated: June 18, 2019

BOGOTA, Colombia—Venezuelan interim president Juan Guaidó’s ambassador to Colombia formally requested that Colombia open investigations into the alleged misappropriation of funds by members of his own coalition.

The June 18 request by Ambassador Humberto Calderon Bertí follows a report in Miami’s PanAm Post on June 14 that Colombian intelligence services discovered that two officials personally appointed by Guaidó have been using funds that are intended to feed and house individuals fleeing Venezuela’s military on designer clothes and lavish nights out in nightclubs, restaurants, and hotels.

Guaidó, who invoked the constitution on Jan. 23 to declare himself interim president, has promised a number of “internationally transparent” investigations into the matter. “Dictators are the ones who cover up corruption. Not us,” the fresh-faced leader posted on Twitter on June 17, referring to Nicolás Maduro, who is widely believed to have secured his latest term in fraudulent elections.

At Bogotá’s public prosecutor’s office, Bertí officially requested the assistance of Colombia, a key ally against Maduro and a launching pad for many efforts to unseat him, in its investigations.

The two officials under investigation, Rossana Barrera and Kevin Rojas, were operating in the Colombian border-city of Cúcuta, a flashpoint in the Venezuela crisis from which Guaidó supporters attempted to allow humanitarian aid—rejected by Maduro—into the country on Feb. 23. The effort to retrieve the aid failed, ending in chaos as violence broke out and the supplies went up in flames, but succeeded as a catalyst for military defections.

More than 1,500 ex-military officials have since taken up Guaidó’s calls to abandon the dictatorship’s forces—accompanied by 735 family members—and have fled to Colombia, according to the country’s foreign ministry.

While the deserters have been awaiting a call to arms to liberate their country from Maduro, they have been living out of budget hotels—with the costs split between the UN Agency for Refugees and Guaidó’s establishment.

Those under the provisions of Guaidó’s organization have faced regular threats of eviction due to late payments, with the cause initially suspected to be poor administration. It now, however, looks more likely to be corruption rather than incompetence, according to a senior figure involved in negotiations between the Colombian and Venezuelan governments on the matter.

The source, who preferred to remain anonymous, told The Epoch Times that the two officials had left $30,000 of debt behind them and consistently failed to provide accurate information about the funds they had received. The case has been a “nightmare” for the Colombian government, which has now taken responsibility for the defectors.

The official couldn’t disclose the specifics of the intelligence report handed to Bertí, but reiterated that the matter isn’t related to the U.S.-funded humanitarian aid stockpiled at the border, contrary to reports that the two officials were also responsible for much of it spoiling and burned it in a cover-up.

The aid, which never reached Venezuela, was intended to help meet the urgent needs of those suffering from the country’s rapid economic collapse and widespread food and medicine shortages. More than 4 million people have fled the chaos in Venezuela in recent years, according to the UN Agency for Refugees.

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