Vitol still has contracts with Pemex; its former CEO in Mexico is an associate of a deceased financial operator of Los Zetas

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JOURNALISM

Vitol still has contracts with Pemex; its former CEO in Mexico is an associate of a deceased financial operator of Los Zetas

(Translated from Spanish)

The multinational energy company Vitol maintained a contract with Pemex at least until February 2022, despite President López Obrador’s threat to review its business operations in Mexico, after the company accepted that, for years, it bribed Pemex officials. Between 2012 and 2017, the period when the bribes occurred, a little-known but key figure in the Miahuapan oilfield in Veracruz was Luis Roca Ramisa, the man behind Vitol México. Miahuapan is where Vitol still has an active contract. Roca Ramisa was also a partner in MTTM Servicios Petroleros, a firm that operated in Miahuapan before the oilfield was awarded to the multinational. In addition to having an interest in Miahuapan, Roca Ramisa had little-explored corporate relationships, including with Francisco “Pancho” Colorado, sentenced to 20 years in prison for being a financial operator of Los Zetas before he died in 2018.

Between 2012 and 2017, Vitol México was led by the executive Luis Roca Ramisa, who, since 2009, was a partner of Francisco “Pancho” Antonio Colorado Cessa, financial operator of Los Zetas, in the company RRL Oilfields. At the beginning of his tenure at Vitol, Roca Ramisa had already been a partner of another firm, MTTM Servicios Petroleros, together with Francisco Silva Ramos, a businessman identified as Colorado’s main partner. In 2014, with Roca Ramisa already as CEO, Vitol was awarded a contract by Pemex Exploración y Producción (PEP) to exploit hydrocarbons in the Miahuapan oilfield, located in a Pemex territory where MTTM Servicios Petroleros had operated between 2011 and 2013. This contract between Vitol and PEP has remained intact despite the fact that the multinational accepted having bribed Pemex officials and that the Superior Auditor of the Federation (ASF, in Spanish) found irregularities in the awarding of the contract.

“We cannot work with a company that has just acknowledged acts of corruption and especially when we do not know which contracts and which officials they are referring to,” said Octavio Romero, director of Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), about Vitol during the morning press conference of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on March 3, 2021. In December 2020, the company accepted having bribed Pemex officials to win contracts.

At the same press conference, López Obrador argued that he had already ordered Pemex to ask the Attorney General’s Office (FGR, in Spanish) to initiate investigations against Vitol. In addition, he said that Mexico would not accept a plea bargain if Vitol did not reveal the names of the public officials it bribed.

Indeed, three contracts between PMI Comercio Internacional, a Mexican subsidiary of Pemex, and Vitol have since been canceled. However, despite what AMLO and Romero said, as of February 2022 Vitol maintained at least one contract with PEP, according to a response to a public information request obtained by Quinto Elemento Lab. Behind Vitol’s story in Mexico, the question remains about who operated it since 2012: Luis Roca Ramisa, who that year became CEO of Vitol México, until he left in 2017, as he confirmed to Empower by telephone. The Vitol contract with Pemex that is still untouched was awarded during Roca Ramisa’s tenure to the subsidiary Petrolera Miahuapan, S.A. de C.V., in order to exploit the Miahuapan oilfield located in the Activo Integral Aceite Terciario del Golfo (AIATG), owned by Pemex.

Before joining Vitol, Roca Ramisa was a partner of MTTM Servicios Petroleros, which also had contracts in AIATG and Miahuapan between 2011 and 2013.

The AIATG is a massive Pemex project to explore and exploit oil wells in order to increase production, covering areas of the states of Veracruz, and Puebla. In 2011, MTTM Servicios Petroleros obtained two contracts in the AIATG: one in alliance with ADT Petroservicios, a company owned by Pancho Colorado, and another with Asesoría en Ingeniería en Petróleos de México, S. de R.L. de C.V., whose external contact at the time was Roca Ramisa’s email address.

In addition to MTTM Servicios Petroleros, Roca Ramisa, Venezuelan by birth and naturalized Mexican in 2005, was part of a network of hydrocarbon companies. He was a partner of Pancho Colorado in RRL Oilfield Services and of Francisco Silva Ramos, Colorado’s partner in other companies. In some of these companies, including RRL Oilfield Services, Roca Ramisa also shared ownership with José Cruz de León Mojarro and Oscar García Rojas, both former Pemex officials who were shareholders or legal representatives of other companies related to Colorado.

“Vitol could not omit conducting exhaustive due diligence of a person it was going to hire as CEO and who was going to sign Pemex contracts. At a minimum we can say that this indicates reasonable suspicion of someone who did not do his job or who chose not to do it,” said Paulo Díez Gargari, an attorney whose specialty is corporate transparency and is known for uncovering corporate corruption, such as the case of OHL México, when interviewed.

Pancho Colorado died in March 2018 in his prison cell in the United States, where, since December 2015, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas had sentenced him to 20 years for “conspiracy” and laundering money from drug trafficking by the criminal organization Los Zetas. According to investigations into the case, between 2004-05 Los Zetas gave Colorado money so that his company, ADT Petroservicios, S.A. de C.V., could purchase machinery and win public contracts with Pemex.

Subsequently, Colorado bought racehorses using ADT Petroservicios as a front company. During his lifetime, Colorado developed economic ties with several individuals who owned companies in Mexico’s energy sector, including Luis Roca Ramisa, Francisco Silva Ramos, José Cruz de León Mojarro, and Oscar García Rojas. Meanwhile, Roca Ramisa and Silva Ramos were partners in MTTM Servicios Petroleros.

In the commercial documents of MTTM Servicios Petroleros, Francisco Silva Ramos identified himself as a businessman from Tamaulipas, born on April 19, 1970. However, his most relevant relationship, besides the one with Colorado, is with his brother, Alberto Silva Ramos, an active politician of the Green Ecologist Party (PVEM, in Spanish) and former municipal president of Tuxpan. Between 2014 and 2016, he was a spokesperson for the government of Veracruz, precisely where MTTM operated years earlier. During that time, he is believed to have created shell companies to acquire government contracts and, at the same time, luxury properties in Costa Rica and the United States.

The relationship between ADT Petroservicios and MTTM Servicios Petroleros

In 2007, ADT Petroservicios, owned by Pancho Colorado, together with Ramón Segura Flores, acquired 6.74 acres in the Coatzacoalcos territorial reserve “El Ostión” at a below-market price. In the case file, reported by Eje Central, Alejandro Sánchez Rosales appears as the legal representative of the company and later becomes the director of Public Works in the municipality of Tuxpan during the administration of Alberto Silva Ramos (2010-13).

Although Colorado is not listed as a partner of MTTM Servicios Petroleros, the news agency Reuters reported that, according to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) special agent Michael Fernald, the company was used by Colorado to evade the veto against ADT Petroservicios, which was disqualified from participating in public contracts in Mexico in 2009.

Meanwhile, Ricardo Barrera, CEO of the financial institution UBS in 2011, testified as part of the U.S. trial against Francisco Colorado Cebado, son of Pancho Colorado, that, even though he did not know Roca Ramisa, he remembered that MTTM “was one the last new companies that Colorado wanted to establish.”

UBS used to make arrangements for Colorado and his companies and, as evidence in the U.S. government’s investigation, a table of companies related to ADT Petroservicios and Tresco (Transportación Especializada Colorado, owned by Pancho Colorado) was provided, in which MTTM Servicios Petroleros is listed and Roca Ramisa and Silva Ramos are identified as partners.

Between 2002 and 2011, ADT Petroservicios was awarded 58 contracts by Pemex and the government of Veracruz, valued at 255.53 million USD. One of those contracts was with MTTM Servicios Petroleros in the AIATG

Roca Ramisa says he was only a “technical consultant” for Colorado

In July 2011, PEP signed contract number 424011853 with MTTM Servicios Petroleros, incorporated just five months earlier by Francisco Silva Ramos and Luis Roca Ramisa, according to the Public Registry of Commerce of Poza Rica, Veracruz. In the contract, obtained by Empower, only Silva Ramos appears as the legal representative; however, it was through this contract that Roca Ramisa’s company learned about the Miahuapan oilfield, which would be explored by MTTM Servicios Petroleros in search of oil.

In May 2012, Roca Ramisa joined the executive management of Vitol México. A month later, he sold his shares in MTTM Servicios Petroleros. In MTTM’s commercial documents, it was not clarified who received his shares, but rather that Julián Ramón Matesanz Cedrun took over Roca Ramisa’s role as corporate trustee. That same month, the U.S. accused Pancho Colorado of being a financial operator for Los Zetas.

Between 2013 and 2020, during Roca Ramisa’s tenure as CEO in Mexico, Vitol had 91 contracts with Mex Gas Supply, a subsidiary of Pemex Transformación Industrial, in addition to at least five contracts with PEP and Pemex Etileno between 2014 and 2018. Of the latter, two of them were Integral Exploitation and Production Contacts (CIEP, in Spanish) with PEP in 2014. In these two contracts, Vitol participated through Petrolera Miahuapan and Vitol Energy México in one, as well as through Petrolera Amatitlan and Vitol Energy México in the other. The term of both contracts was for 35 years, until 2049.

It was precisely contract number 424104805 between Petrolera Miahuapan, Vitol Energy México, its partner GPA Energy, S.A. de C.V. (a Mexican natural gas producer), and PEP whose purpose was “to execute all the necessary activities for the production of hydrocarbons within the contract area,” in exactly the same area as the Miahuapan oilfield.

Miahuapan is located within Pemex’s AIATG, the same area where MTTM Servicios Petroleros, with Roca Ramisa as partner, had participated years earlier, as found in the annexes of both contracts in Empower’s possession.

According to Roca Ramisa’s LinkedIn, as of the date of publication of this article, he is still listed as the CEO of Vitol in Mexico and director of PetroGlobal, a firm located in Houston, Texas. Empower called PetroGlobal’s telephone number, which was answered by Roca Ramisa, who confirmed that he had not been the CEO of Vitol since 2017 and denied that he used any information acquired during his time at MTTM Servicios Petroleros in favor of Vitol.

With regard to Roca Ramisa, the attorney Díez Gargari clarifies that “of course he had knowledge that others did not have. To what extent is that prohibited or illegal? Well, it isn’t because the firms are private. But the mere fact of knowledge does open doors.”

Regarding his shareholding relationship with Pancho Colorado, Roca Ramisa limited his answer to commenting that he was acquainted with him as “someone known within the energy sector in Mexico” and that Roca Ramisa was only a “technical consultant” for him. However, he refused to explain why he appears as Colorado’s partner in RRL Oilfield Services if, in fact, he was merely a consultant. Nor did he inform why, upon the death of his partner, no shareholder movement was registered for the company.

“He (Roca Ramisa) would have to prove that signatures or documents were forged, but you cannot be a partner in a company in which you did not agree to be a partner. The notary supposedly makes sure that the signatures and the people are who they say they are,” explains Díez Gargari, who’s also the owner of DGT Díez Gargari law firm.

When asked for an interview or to respond to a questionnaire, Roca Ramisa refused to provide his email address. Empower sent a questionnaire to the email address of a company where he is a partner and to PetroGlobal, but, as this article was published, no response had been received.

Ongoing investigation

Had Pemex director Octavio Romero’s statement been fulfilled that Vitol would no longer conduct business in Mexico until it disclosed which Pemex officials received bribes from the firm, the contract between Petrolera Miahuapan and Vitol Energy México would have been canceled or at least suspended.

On December 15, 2020, Pemex filed a legal motion with the FGR requesting an investigation into the bribes that Vitol recognized having paid to Pemex officials between 2015 and 2020. In the motion, obtained by Quinto Elemento Lab, Pemex relied on what was published in the media and what was presented before the court in the U.S.

However, as of November 2021, the payments made to Petrolera Miahuapan had not been investigated as part of the case number FED/FECC/FECC-CDMX/0000035/2021, according to what Pemex admitted to Empower via a freedom of information appeal for review. As of July 2021, the case file was still being compiled, according to PEP’s response to a freedom of information request submitted by Quinto Elemento Lab.

Pemex audit heavily redacted

As a result of Vitol’s admission, audits were conducted, some which are still in progress. On one hand, in January 2022 PEP informed Quinto Elemento Lab, through a freedom of information request, that the contract with Petrolera Miahuapan was evaluated in audit number AU-021-2021, applied between April 9 and December 17, 2021. The purpose of this audit was to “verify the control mechanism established for the proper execution of the contracted work, the established programming, as well as the proper recognition of the expenses presented and that the resources disbursed are duly accounted for.”

However, on the other hand, although the order to conduct the audit arose from the bribery cases recognized by Vitol, the result of the audit is heavily redacted. Among the hidden information are the audit’s findings, the amounts to be clarified, and the recommendations. For this reason it remains unknown whether or not Vitol complied with the observations. Nevertheless, Pemex confirmed to Quinto Elemento Lab that “there are no antecedents related to rescission and/or cancellation of the aforementioned contracts derived from the auditing services performed.”

ASF found irregularities in the Petrolera Miahuapan contract

For its part, the Superior Auditor of the Federation identified that GPA Energy transferred its participation in the contract for the Miahuapan oilfield to Vitol E&P, B.V., according to the compliance audit number 2020-6-90T9G-19-0427-2021, which reviewed the public budget of 2020. Thus, Vitol Energy México and Vitol E&P were jointly responsible.

In the agreement modifying the contract, signed in July 2015 and obtained by Quinto Elemento Lab, Roca Ramisa signed as the main legal representative of Vitol Energy México and special legal representative of Vitol E&P. Throughout 2015, the firm registered changes of officers and legal representatives, leaving only those related to Vitol.

In 2020, a total of 193,454 million MXN (without VAT) were paid out for this contract, according to the ASF. Meanwhile, Pemex reported through a response to a freedom of information request that it had made payments to Petrolera Miahuapan at least through October 2021.

Regarding contract number 424104804 for the Amatitlán oilfield, Vitol transferred its participation to Gimsa División Industrial and GPA transferred its participation to Lumex Amatitlán and Lumex Holding, as reported by the ASF. Lumex is part of the multinational Lukoil.

Even so, the ASF found several irregularities at the outset of both contracting processes. To begin with, Pemex requested proposals only from these companies without justifying why just them. In addition, “it could not prove with documentary evidence that Vitol and GPA complied with the technical, commercial, and economic requirements.” Also, the contractors initially invested less money than what was stipulated in the contracting documents without providing justification.

It should be noted that, for both contracts, in the proposal sent by Vitol and GPA the company COMESA is named, which was incorporated in 1968 in a consortium between Pemex and Schlumberger, a French-American firm accused of corruption in 2007. However, when the contracts were signed and work began, COMESA no longer appeared. The ASF issued an observation regarding both contracts since there was no document justifying COMESA’s departure.

Roca Ramisa was Schlumberger’s marketing manager for Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean in 2004, according to Oilfield Review magazine. Also, the book Política Energética quoted Roca Ramisa as the general manager of that company in 2005.

GPA Energy said it would not respond to a questionnaire sent by Quinto Elemento Lab due to “confidentiality agreements.”

Petrolera Miahuapan

Petrolera Miahuapan was incorporated in June 2014 by Vitol Energy México, S.A. de C.V. and GPA Energy, S.A. de C.V. as a special purpose company to execute the hydrocarbon production contract in the Miahuapan area, together with PEP. Vitol was the majority partner at that time and would be the sole partner a year later, when it acquired GPA’s shares. In addition, Roca Ramisa and Shahveer Kapadia, also a senior Vitol official, appeared as legal representatives according to documents obtained from the Public Registry of Property and Commerce of Mexico City.

In March 2015, the partners spun-off the company and, although the Registry documents do not specify to whom, the registered changes that followed were appointments of Vitol workers as legal representatives and board members of Petrolera Miahuapan. In 2017, Roca Ramisa was still listed as a legal representative and, not until 2018, despite the fact that he claims to have left Vitol a year earlier, did he resign as secretary of the company, according to documents from the Public Registry of Property and Commerce of Mexico City.

Corporate lawyers from the law firm MCM Abogados also stand out. Among them is Manuel Cervantes Mosqueda, a corporate lawyer in the oil and gas industry who has represented several companies, including some linked directly or indirectly to Pancho Colorado’s network. In Petrolera Miahuapan, Cervantes Mosqueda first appeared as secretary in November 2019.

In 2005, Cervantes Mosqueda was the legal representative of Omega Resources, a subsidiary of Key Energy Services Mexico, a company accused of corruption in 2016. Eight years earlier, that firm had José Cruz de León Mojarro, a partner of Roca Ramisa and Pancho Colorado in RRL Oilfield Services, as its legal representative.

According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Key Energy used two subsidiaries, Key Energy Services de México, S.A. de R.L. de C.V. and Recursos Omega, S. de R.L. de C.V., to bribe Pemex officials in exchange for privileged information to win public bids. Meanwhile, in the National Registry of Foreign Investment (RNIE, in Spanish) in Mexico, Cervantes Mosqueda appears as legal representative of Recursos Omega. Between June 2018 and September 2020, the lawyer appears as alternate secretary of the board of directors of Vitol Energy México.

The last recorded movement of Petrolera Miahuapan was in June 2021, three months after AMLO threatened to review Vitol’s contracts in Mexico. On June 30, 2021, Petrolera Miahuapan expanded its corporate purpose to be able to provide more services to Pemex and other companies.

Pancho Colorado and his corporate network

While Roca Ramisa and Silva Ramos were finalizing the deal between MTTM Servicios Petroleros and Pemex for the Activo Integral Aceite Terciario del Golfo, where the Miahuapan oilfield is located, Roca Ramisa had at least one partnership with Pancho Colorado.

In February 2009, both individuals, together with J. Cruz de León Mojarro and Gustavo García Rojas, both former Pemex officials, incorporated the company RRL Oilfield Services in Poza Rica, Veracruz. Although there is no record of this firm having had any public contracts, its timing coincided with MTTM Servicios Petroleros, which was used by Ramisa and Silva to win contracts with Pemex.

Oscar García Rojas, partner and manager of RRL Oilfield Services, worked for PEP in 2003 as superintendent of the area of material resources for drilling and well maintenance in the northern delegation. Meanwhile, José Cruz de León Mojarro is also a former PEP employee, where he was manager of drilling and well maintenance in the northern region. Upon leaving Pemex and except for their appearances in companies incorporated by Roca Ramisa, Pancho Colorado, and Silva Ramos, both men’s tracks seem to disappear. As for Roca Ramisa, de León Mojarro, and García Rojas, they also share a partnership in Chicontepec Engineering Services, incorporated in 2007.

As of 2021, there is no record that Roca Ramisa has ceased being a partner in RRL Oilfield Services, nor of any other movement in the company, even following the death of Pancho Colorado, per documents provided by the Public Registry of Commerce of Poza Rica.

Colorado and Silva Ramos, one step removed from Roca Ramisa

In 2005, Silva Ramos and Colorado founded La Rosa de la Huasteca in Tuxpan. In 2009, Silva granted a general power of attorney to Colorado for his company Piiggs del Noreste. And, in 2005, Colorado gave a power of attorney to Silva Ramos in his firm ADT Petroservicios. In addition, Silva Ramos appears as the legal representative of ADT Petroservicios’ contracts with the government of Veracruz and Pemex, including the contract in consortium with MTTM Servicios Petroleros for the Miahuapan oilfield.

In other words, Roca Ramisa was not only a direct partner of Pancho Colorado in at least one company, but also of Silva Ramos, one of the people closest to the financial operator of Los Zetas.

Roca Ramisa has kept a low profile. In addition to the fact that he became a naturalized Mexican citizen at the age of 49, on December 7, 2021, he bought, together with his wife (also Venezuelan), a house in Ridgeburg Court, Houston, Texas, as verified by the Harris County Clerk’s Office.

With his son, Luis Daniel Roca Bartoli, a lawyer graduated from the Universidad Anáhuac and a naturalized Mexican citizen in 2008, he shares a partnership in Terra Energy Group. At the incorporation of the company, both declared that they lived in two different houses in Parques de la Herradura, an exclusive area in the State of Mexico. Daniel Roca also has properties in Houston.

On May 19, 2022, Romero and AMLO announced that Vitol had already disclosed the names of the Pemex officials that it had bribed. According to attorney Paulo Díez Gargari, should the conflict be resolved politically, as is likely the case, instead of disqualifying Vitol from receiving future contracts, there should at least “be written agreements and strict supervision over the company and its business in Mexico for a certain number of years.”

Furthermore, according to the expert, the contracts signed with Vitol should contain a cross-termination clause whereby, if corruption in one contract is somehow related to another, they all should be reviewed and terminated, since it is likely that corruption has permeated them as well even if they were signed beforehand.

So far, according to public, non-confidential information, the authorities and investigations have ignored key players in the Vitol scheme, such as Roca Ramisa during his leadership of the company in Mexico, and prior. Investigating Roca Ramisa’s ties to Pancho Colorado and Silva Ramos is essential to understanding who ran Vitol in Mexico. In turn, reviewing Vitol’s performance in the past and not only on the basis of bribery will help shed light on the non-transparent behavior of this corporation and, therefore, the Mexican energy sector overall, which is mainly controlled by Pemex.

Vitol responded to Empower via email that it has “comprehensive and constantly improving due diligence procedures.” It clarified that Roca Ramisa joined the company in 2012 and left in 2018, and since then “the company has no knowledge of its activities.” And it denied having had any relationship with Francisco Colorado Cessa, in addition to informing that it has not been notified about any criminal investigation of its businesses through Petrolera Miahuapan.

Pemex did not respond to an interview request or a questionnaire sent by Empower.

Quinto Elemento Lab contributed information to this story.

*This article is part of an investigative project about corruption, violence, and forced disappearances that have plagued the society of Veracruz since the administration of Javier Duarte de Ochoa. Empower has been working for three years to document human rights violations in the state. All three investigations will soon be available here.

If you want to see the information sources click here.

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