In April this year, Diaz and her husband were sentenced to 15 years in prison federal judge in Florida. The court found that while she ran the Venezuelan treasury, the couple accepted and laundered more than $136 million in bribes from the billionaire media mogul in exchange for letting him buy Treasury bonds at a favorable exchange rate. (She and her husband will appeal the verdict.)
The persecution of the former Venezuelan official in the United States, which sought her extradition from her new home in Spain, was made possible as the illicit money generated by the scheme passed through the US financial system.
But the case did not reveal the whole picture. In the sentencing record, the Justice Department prosecutor noted that the couple had “additional control” of millions of dollars overseas.
The whereabouts and origin of Diaz’s remaining fortune remain a mystery. But at least some of them, apparently, ended up in the Liechtenstein vault.
Prosecutors in this bucolic Alpine state allege that in 2014 and 2015, an offshore company owned by Diaz bought 250 gold bars worth $9.5 million, which were then hidden in a private vault she rented.
Liechtenstein’s prosecutor’s office has “strong suspicions” that the gold, which was gradually withdrawn and sold between 2018 and 2019, was purchased with “incriminated” funds, according to the case file presented in the country’s national court.
About the existence of an investigation in Liechtenstein earlier The Associated Press reported. Now, by analyzing court records and other documents, OCCRP and its partner Armando.Info have been able to identify Buja and Alcantara de la Torre as two of Diaz’s aides and gather previously unreleased information about their backgrounds. Bank statements, gold seizure orders and other documents obtained by prosecutors show that at least Buja appears to have played a key role in the actual handling of the gold.
The two men, now living privileged European lives, have not been charged. But they may hold the key to the whereabouts of the rest of Diaz’s fortune. Their alleged involvement in her apparent attempts to launder money outside her homeland and keep it out of the reach of international investigators points to the vital role that various collaborators play in helping corrupt Venezuelan officials plunder their country.
Buja’s lawyers declined to comment and told reporters they “didn’t want to be contacted.” Requests for comment left at Alcantara de la Torre’s Parisian apartment have not been answered.
Lawyers for Diaz did not respond to multiple requests for comment. According to the latest information provided to journalists by the Liechtenstein authorities, as of July of this year, the investigation against her and several alleged accomplices was still ongoing. Buja was also under investigation, but prosecutors have not confirmed whether he remains an object of interest today. As far as is known, no charges have been filed.
Alcantara de la Torre bought an apartment that same year in a prestigious area of Paris, where, according to the building’s staff, he still occasionally stays. (Requests for comment left in the apartment were not answered.)
In addition to their common connection with gold, Diaz, Alcantara de la Torre and Buja did business together in other ventures. In 2015, they partnered with Goodfellas, a private company registered in the Isle of Man. And in 2016, Alcantara de la Torre became a co-owner of Midas Group, a Monaco-based company founded by Buja and later renamed JR Group. The purpose of these companies could not be established.
Buja and Alcantara de la Torre also seem to share an interest in contemporary art, both having donated to the Serpentine Galleries, an exhibition in the British capital’s Kensington Gardens.
In the late 2010s, Alcantara de la Torre joined the Latin American Purchasing Committee at the Tate Modern in London. According to the Tate, he remained a member as late as March 2022.
Buja has also made other charitable donations, as a donor to an AIDS research fund and attending a high-profile fundraising gala in Milan in 2017.
At the end of 2018, when the Liechtenstein gold vault was almost completely empty, Alcantara de la Torre and the Monegasque company Bugi JR Group were dissolved.
“I made a lot of money”
What happened to Diaz’s gold proceeds is unknown, except that some of it was transferred to Swiss bank accounts.
But the origins of Diaz’s finances seem to be well established. The U.S. Attorney said that Diaz “acted knowingly and deliberately” to enrich herself at the expense of public funds, despite the fact that she was the person whom “the people of Venezuela have entrusted to be the steward of their national wealth.”
Despite such responsibilities, she claimed that she did not even know how much she herself earned.
“I made a lot of money, but I didn’t have time to spend it,” she said in a rare interview with Spanish newspaper El Mundo. “I saved up,” she told a reporter. “I am a civil servant who has earned money for his work.”
When asked how much her salary was when she was treasurer, she replied, “I don’t remember.”