Chavez’s henchman faces the music

Emmanuel Andrade © Getty images
Andrade: all good things come to an end

The Venezuela president’s bodyguard was thoroughly corrupt and will spend a decade behind bars.

According to an old Russian joke, the Soviet leader Brezhnev once invited his elderly mother to his summer house. After showing her around his dacha, including his collection of fancy Western cars, he noticed she had grown increasingly worried as the tour went on. “What’s wrong?” asked Brezhnev, puzzled. “But Lyonya,” she replied, “what will you do if the Communists come back?”

I was reminded of the joke while reading about the opulent lifestyle of one Alejandro Andrade, who had been a bodyguard of Venezuela’s socialist revolutionary, Hugo Chávez, before rising to powerful positions in his government. Andrade has recently been convicted of taking bribes as Venezuela’s treasurer in a money-laundering scheme that made him a billionaire, reports Nicholas Casey in The New York Times.

Stunning array of bribes

Venezuela may be facing its worst economic crisis in modern history, with devastating shortages of food and medicine, but “a small clique” made up of government officials, well-connected businessmen and military leaders has amassed “untold fortunes”, says Casey.

In Andrade’s case, he took advantage of his position to receive “a stunning array of bribes”. His corruption was so blatant that when he received a bill for $174,800 to transport his horses, he simply sent it to a friendly businessman, who paid the invoice from his personal bank account in Switzerland. The “friend” also sent a $20m wire transfer from a Swiss bank to buy an aircraft for Andrade. All in all, Andrade admits taking $1bn worth of backhanders.

Still, all good things must come to an end. As well as spending a decade in jail, Andrade’s plea bargain requires him to forfeit his Palm Beach County real-estate empire and horses that allowed his son, Emanuel, to become an Olympic equestrian, report David Voreacos and Fabiola Zerpa on Bloomberg. Andrade “will give up a six-acre estate in a gated community and 17 horses with names such as Tinker Bell, Bonjovi and Anastasia Du Park”.

At the same time he’ll have to hand over his 2017 Mercedes Benz GLS 550 and nine other cars, as well as three dozen watches from makers such as Rolex, Hublot and Franck Muller. He’ll also be “forfeiting Swiss accounts at BSI Bank and EFG Bank, and at three large US banks”.

The asset confiscations present the US government with a dilemma, however: how to fairly distribute the loot. Logic (and natural justice) would suggest that the money seized by the feds be returned to the Venezuelan people from whom the money was stolen. But prosecutors think this a bad idea. They argue that the Venezuelan regime’s “complicity in this conspiracy renders victim status inappropriate”.

There’s also the question of what to do with the horses. Given that they “range in value from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars”, they are obviously valuable assets, says Jay Weaver in The Miami Herald. However, they “require attention at a very high level” including “proper feeding, exercise and training every day to maintain their highly competitive edge” if they are to reach their full price at auction. The feds are remaining tight-lipped about their fate.

As for the fate of Chavez’s revolution, I am reminded of another Soviet joke. “Chavez has died, but his cause lives on!” says a slogan. I would prefer it the other
way round.

Tabloid money… a £7,000 ticket for the hottest show in town

• I am loving that, after so many years dedicated to supporting her husband, the US’s former first lady, Michelle Obama, is enjoying her own moment in the spotlight, says Karren Brady in The Sun on Sunday. Her autobiography, Becoming, was part of the biggest publishing deal in history, worth $65m. Despite being published less than a month ago, it has already sold a whopping 1.4 million copies and is now on its sixth print run.

Her book tour has sold out stadium-sized venues in America and her appearance at London’s South­bank Centre last week was the hottest show in town. Tickets were being sold on the black market for £7,000. It turns out that as well as being a style icon, with enviably toned upper arms, Michelle is seriously inspirational – and we’re hanging on her every word.

• Art critic Waldemar Januszczak has slammed the video and film medium that won this year’s Turner Prize, calling it “old hat”, says Brian Reade in the Daily Mirror. Glasgow-based artist Charlotte Prodger scooped the £25,000 prize last week for her winning entry, comprising two films. One of those, called Bridgit, recalls her experiences of coming out as gay in rural Scotland, and features her reading from her diaries.

It was shot entirely using the camera on her iPhone and Januszczak is not impressed. He said it was “so easy to do, it attracts the untalented”. Fabulous. That’s my entry for next year’s competition sorted – a collection of videos of the dangling bits of my genitalia, entitled “a load of old balls”. How can the Turner Prize judges resist?

• Santa South West Christmas Village in Shepton Mallet is this year’s disappointing “Winter Wonderland” experience, says Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail. It’s always the same old story. Visitors are promised a magical world of reindeer, ice skating and a jolly Santa Claus handing out presents. Then the “reindeer” turn out to be a couple of arthritic donkeys with cardboard antlers.

The ice rink is a sheet of polythene plonked on a sea of mud. Santa looks like he should be helping the Jimmy Savile squad with their inquiries. My favourite is still the Lapland New Forest extravaganza from a decade ago. For £30 a head, you had mangy huskies, brawling elves, and if you wanted your picture with Santa, that was £10 extra.