SEMANA/Controversy | 1/16/2009 12:00:00 AM
The reinvention of Colombia’s pyramid scheme
From Panama, and with offices in New York and in Bogotá, a new chapter in the story of the controversial David Murcia Guzmán has begun. They are raising money for his legal defense and looking into ways to reopen operations in several countries.
But it is also true that from prison Murcia has demonstrated that he is not giving in. Movements in other countries are being seen that show that, as Murcia himself has said, that as long as he lives, there will be DMG. The leader of the new phase is Alexandre Ventura, a businessman originally from Brazil, who lives in Panama. Days before the fall of the DMG emporium, he was presented in Bogotá as one of the main partners for the expansion of that brand in the entire continent.
Today, Ventura is the president of the DMG Foundation- Friends of David Murcia Guzmán, a nonprofit organization constituted at the end of 2008 in New York. This group says that its purpose is to raise funds for Murcia’s legal defense, pay off debts with suppliers and people related to DMG, especially internationally, and continue what they call Murcia’s “social works.”
“We have contacts with high-level authorities to explain the business in Ecuador and in Venezuela and thus be able to reopen. We are also making advances with Brazil and Mexico, countries that interest us the most,” the businessman told SEMANA. According to Ventura, Murcia is not participating in their activities, but they do have his backing. His partner is the Byelorussian Alexander Altshoul, the other businessman who was presented in Colombia as a future DMG partner before the company’s fall.
In the United States, the foundation opened an account in PNC Bank, where the money goes to help Murcia and, according to Ventura, they were able to get PricewaterhouseCoopers to audit the new foundation. However, this statement is now causing concerns about the seriousness of DMG’s new movements, as according to the principle partner of that accounting firm in Colombia, Eduardo Calero, it would be impossible for PricewaterhouseCoopers to be conducting such an audit.
“They sought our services a month and a half ago and we did not accept. Nowhere in the world would any legal entity related to DMG be audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers without having our approval,” says Calero. At the close of this edition, SEMANA was informed that they had not been identified as PricewaterhouseCoopers clients.
In practice, the true center of operations of the foundation is Ventura’s office in Panama City. There, a few days ago, he called the media of that country to present the foundation. In Colombia they say that they will do the same in the next ten days after they complete their incorporation procedures. But already inconsistencies are appearing in their activities. In some documents they say that their office address is in the C tower of the exclusive World Trade Center in Bogotá. According to spokespersons for the foundation, that office space was provided by one of the old DMG suppliers, but when checked, there was no evidence of their office. “Several people have come asking about the foundation, but we don’t know anything,” they say at the building’s lobby.
Anyhow, it is evident that the thrust of this foundation is in Colombia. Because even though after Murcia’s capture there was a disbanding of many of the people closest to the company, some of the regional heads of the business and their personal advisors have converted the DMG leader into their cause. Today a dozen of them are the core group of the foundation and have already been able to get 3,000 people to become founders. Such is the passion that he generates that, for example, after finding out about a pre-agreement Daniel and Margarita Pabón had with the Fiscalía, the prosecutor general’s office, in order to reduce their sentences, one director of the foundation with tears and rage screamed at her as she exited the courthouse, “Traitor! We defended you until the end and this is how you pay us!”
This base group, with the support of Venture, has been coordinating the different support committees that Murcia has in Colombia. The foundation has begun to provide t-shirts, promotional materials and support for the hundreds of people who have been crammed together for nearly a month in a stadium in the south of Bogotá awaiting word of the fate of Murcia, and are paying attention to the dozen people who are continuing a hunger strike in the center of the capital.
Where is the money for all this- including travel and international advisory- coming from? What is the true purpose that inspires them? In Colombia it is said that there are foreign organizations that are supporting them. Ventura says that they have already received several donations from DMG cardholders, but the foundation’s main assets are the advances for the rights that Murcia has given for a book and documentary about his story, and that they have already sold rights to some producers whose names they are withholding. Ventura denies that this is a façade to channel towards Murcia a part of his hidden fortune, because according to him, that fortune doesn’t exist.
Ventura admits that they are evaluating whether the DMG business can continue in other countries under the same name, but he is clear that if they change the name, the operation will in any case continue to be the same as it is known in Colombia, only that a part of the profits will go to the foundation. He says that he is doing it in a disinterested manner, moved by the conviction of Murcia’s innocence and he projects himself as another victim claiming that some banks are also closing doors on him because of his relationship with DMG. There are no known judicial processes against Ventura because of his links with Murcia. He himself says that those links never materialized. Still, it is unclear how he was taken off in his role in this new phase for DMG without having more than simple gratitude with Murcia.
He defends the international operations that the company has and justifies the more than 200 companies that Murcia had in Panama by saying that it is usual there, something commonly used for wealth protection. “I must have about 60 corporations myself,” he says, at the same time as he explains what he considers to be a misunderstanding when in Colombia it is mentioned that he was a partner of Donald Trump. “I never said that, and it was an excuse that the lawyer Abelardo de la Espriella used to abandon David,” he says.
The specialty of this businessman in Panama is real estate, a sector in which he has generated a lot of controversy. There is even a webpage of people who claim to be victims of Ventura and there are numerous lawsuits against him by old partners. Also, in Spain, where he was a luxury car dealer, he faced a trial for “supposed breaches of the law regarding measures to prevent money laundering.” Ventura minimizes both of them. He says that “no great businessman in the world is ever exempt from being sued” and that the trial in Spain was a minor incident because of a problem of 5,000 euros that he did not declare when he entered the country on a family trip and that it has no real repercussions.
The DMG foundation is now a reality. It is also a reality that this initiative is linked to the reactivation of the company in several countries. It remains to be seen how they will do that, because there are pending accounts with more than 240,000 people who believed in Murcia’s magic at the beginning. In addition there is a criminal trial, that despite the faith of his followers, it will not be easy for their leader to win, especially now given the deals announced with justice authorities last week with Ángel and Pabón which could result in disgrace for Murcia. Meanwhile, it looks like in the reinvention of DMG there is a new replacement for Murcia: Alexandre Ventura.