Venezuelan Chocolate and New Zealand Trusts: Luis Aguilar’s legal labyrinth Part 1

Luis Alejandro Aguilar Pardo is a Venezuelan lawyer who lives in Florida, USA, even though he apparently can’t practice law there. This hasn’t stopped him filing affidavits and putting them on-line, including for a case in the High Court in Auckland, New Zealand. For some years he has maintained an office in Auckland, as Aguilar & Aguilar Ltd, and created a number of companies for his South American associates. His American firm is listed as A H & A Associates LLC, based in Key Biscayne, Florida; but the ownership of many New Zealand companies has been through Arriapita LLC, which is based at his home address in Boca Raton, Florida. Luis Aguilar’s involvement in litigation is interesting, as it shows how New Zealand trusts are linked to local companies, as part of an offshore network, and how, when it all turns sour, it is difficult to disentangle, particularly when many jurisdictions are involved.

Luis Aguilar’s main litigation protagonist has been Jorge Mateo Redmond Schlageter, another Venezuelan who is well known for his role in the chocolate exporter, Chocolate El Rey Inc. More on that in Part 2, but the two were first linked with New Zealand companies in 2001, when Delmatter Provincial Ltd was set up by Gordon Ralph Stewart in Wellington. By 2003 this company was registered with Geoffrey Cone in Auckland, along with Carisma Ltd, also set up in 2001. In his 2013 affidavit, by responding to an application by Jorge Redmond Schlageter [CIV-2-13-404-1201], Aguilar also refers to two related companies set up later by Geoffrey Cone, Plaza Bandera Ltd, and Amix Harbour Chocolates Ltd (originally called Especial Ltd). It is also relevant to refer to A C & A Nominees Ltd, also set up by Cone at this time (2005). In his affidavit for the New Zealand High Court, Aguilar made a number of claims about the legal advice proffered by Cone, but is vague in the first instance, only saying that contradictory opinions led to the project going astray. But he also had another accusation to make about Cone.

Aguilar claimed that in mid 2007 he discovered that Geoffrey Cone had manipulated the shareholding of the four companies listed above, and made key changes before and then immediately after the end of the financial year in March, to reverse the listed shareholders. Aguilar suggested that this was to effect a “fraudulent avoidance” of the Financial Reporting Act 1993 that was in force at that time. This action could only have taken place in the preceding 2006/7 financial year. Certainly there is something odd in the records of Especial Ltd, which was only set up on March 29 2006, and has a change in shareholding the next day. The shareholding is transferred from Amicorp Trustees (NZ) Ltd to one of Cone’s companies on March 30; then the next change is a transfer to Aguilar & Aguilar Ltd on 1 April 2008. In the example of Carisma Ltd, there is a change in shareholding in January, from Luis Aguilar and Jorge Redmond to A C & A Nominees Ltd, which is then reversed in July 2006. It was Aguilar’s claim that this happened for 38 of his New Zealand companies, and so he decided to pursue the matter with the New Zealand Companies Office in late 2007. In 2008 Aguilar came to an understanding with the authorities by which all of his companies would be struck off in the following year, but then re-created by him and registered at his Auckland office, with the word ‘Prima’ added to the title of the former company name.

That is how Aguilar became the respondent to Jorge Redmond Schlageter’s claim against Carisma Prima Ltd in 2013, and why he thinks Geoffrey Cone was helping Redmond in the litigation. The original Carisma Ltd had a change of shareholding in March 2009, as it’s last act, but the directors had remained Aguilar and Jorge Redmond. According to Aguilar’s affidavit, Carisma Ltd was set up in 2001 to assist in the administration of what he called the ‘Pimjo organisation’, which involved the foundation for an ex-patriate Dutchman who had lived in Venezuela for many years. The Pimjo organisation included a Venezuelan foundation and a Panamanian company, and the New Zealand company was to act as an asset protector, or trustee, for two non-resident (ie foreign) New Zealand trusts. But the Panamanian company – Pimjo SA – had investment assets that were administered by a New York company called Fahnestock & Co. One of the directors of Pimjo SA, Rene Mendez de Leon, apparently did not like Aguilar’s plan. So it seems that he engaged Amicorp’s office in Curacao to come up with an alternative structure. Mendez de Leon was also involved with brokers in Fahnestock, a company which then became part of a larger one, the Oppenheimer Inc., which had an allegedly illegal operation in Caracas. This was based on circumventing the foreign exchange control policies of the Chavez regime.

So the new structure was based on having a Dutch civil law partnership, Pimjo Trust CV, which in turn had a Dutch foundation, Stichting Panthalassa, as a ‘general partner’. Now, Aguilar alleged that this structure was being used to control most of the Pimjo assets, and use the investments as the basis for illegal currency trading. Aguilar named two other parties to these illegal transactions: Russell M. Dallen, and John Gayle Pettus. Dallen’s reputation appears to have been unsullied, and he is now the managing partner at Caracas Capital Markets, and also owns his own publication (Latin American Herald Tribune). But Pettus was not so fortunate with his company: Brisbane, Mendez de Leon, Pettus & Associados. In April 2013 his home was raided by the Venezuelan authorities, due to the ‘irregularities’ in his currency trading activities.

In the meantime, Luis Aguilar had managed to get the Pimjo organisation back to the original intention, by using the new company, Carisma Prima Ltd, to act as trustee for the Pimjo organisation’s New Zealand trusts. However, he was still battling with Jorge Redmond for control of its activities, along with two other directors that he had appointed, German Toro Arevalo, and Jesus Rafael Alfonzo Hernandez. And the conflict with Redmond was further complicated by their contretemps over the Chocolate El Rey structure, and its use of New Zealand ‘foreign’ trusts, as we will see in Part 2 of this saga.

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