Latin America

Buyer of Jeffrey Epstein’s jet has ties to sanctioned Venezuelan

Like virtually everything in Jeffrey Epstein’s world, the sale of his Gulfstream II aircraft to a mysterious, politically connected Venezuelan is chock-full of intrigue.

Epstein used a shell company, Hyperion Air Inc., to sell his twin engine Gulfstream G II to another shell company, Starbridge Landing Inc., in late 2013.

The use of shell companies by the ultra wealthy for this sort of transaction is generally unremarkable. Delaware, Florida and other states allow near anonymity in corporate registrations.

But Oscar A. Faria, the buyer of Epstein’s plane, has ties to powerful people in his native Venezuela, whose socialist government is starving its own people and is the target of widening international sanctions. He’s part of the growing Venezuelan population in Miami, concentrated in and around Doral.

Despite registration of at least 16 businesses in Florida, Faria, by his own admission, conducts most of his business in developing nations such as Paraguay, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau.

Faria said he bought the plane through a broker at Equus Global Aviation named Gary Anzalone and did not know until contacted that the plane belonged to Epstein, whom he said he’d never met.

“I have never met him,” Faria said of Epstein in an interview by telephone. “I don’t even know who he is. I know he is someone with Bill Clinton, or with someone of Bill Clinton. And I was told that by Gary Anzolone, who got me the plane.”

Anzalone refused to comment, citing customer privacy.

Faria was unable to recall the price, saying only that he overpaid for it and that within a few years he sold it for parts rather than repair a turbine. He features the plane in several photos on his public Instagram page.

Miami-based Faria said he owns a palm oil business in Africa, and that he has an even larger role in developing the national soccer team in strife-torn Guinea-Bissau, where the United States closed its embassy in 1998. He is married to Veruzhka Ramirez, who won the Miss Venezuela crown in 1997 and whose popular Instagram page has nearly half a million followers.

FAA records purchased by McClatchy and the Miami Herald show that Faria sought an Export Certificate of Airworthiness from the agency in Aug. 7, 2014, seeking to send the aircraft to Venezuela. He obtained the certificate 19 days later.

Epstein had been the sole owner since purchasing the sleek black aircraft in 1994, overhauling the interior in early 2007 about the time he faced state prosecution that yielded an unusually light punishment amid allegations that he had sexually abused dozens of underage girls.

The Gulfstream — Epstein also owned a Boeing 727, which was known as the Lolita Express — had more than 11,000 hours of flight time when sold to Faria and exported in 2014, according to FAA documents.

At that time, Faria was residing in Miami, behind a gated community entrance in a section of Doral. He has been the target of sporadic surprise protests at his house by Venezuelan expatriates angry about his personal ties to a regime loyalist.

The FAA document appears to have incorrect information. It lists an address for Faria and Starbridge Landing Inc. at 98 Lockerman St. (the street is actually Loockerman) in the Delaware capital city of Dover.

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This photo posted in February 2019 on the public Instagram page of Oscar A. Faria shows him with his wife, Veruzhka Ramirez, Miss Venezuela in 1997, and their daughter, Sofia.

Kent County and city officials confirm there is no standalone property with that address, no tax assessments or collections from there and records show no corporate services providers or registered agents in Delaware operating from that address.

Faria said he used the Delaware address on the documents because he had registered a company there with the same name, Starbridge Landing. But the state’s Division of Corporate Records does not have any record of such a company in its database.

The Florida documents offer a mailing address in Doral for Starbridge. That address is mailbox number 633 at a UPS store.

That mailbox address was used, Faria said, because he didn’t want to receive documents in faraway Delaware. He did not say why he didn’t use his home address.

On the website of one of his companies, African Palm Corporation, there is the address 9 Loockerman St. in Dover, Delaware. That address and suite actually belong to the law firm Spiegel & Utrera, which confirmed it collects mail for Faria.

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Who is Faria?

Oscar Faria has at least 16 businesses incorporated in Florida, some with the same name as his Venezuelan businesses. Some of the companies are also registered in the name of his wife, Veruzhka, the former Miss Venezuela who hails from the state of Tachira near the border with Colombia.

Tachira is one of the reasons for the swirl of intrigue around Faria. What little is known about him is that he won road-paving projects shortly after Jose Gregorio Vielma Mora became governor of Tachira.

Vielma Mora was governor from 2012 to 2017. In 2015 he became godfather to Faria’s daughter. Before becoming governor, Vielma Mora served as Venezuela’s tax commissioner during the rule of the late Hugo Chávez.

Canada sanctioned Vielma Mora for corruption in 2018, and the Trump administration followed with its own sanctions this past July 25, alleging he played a pivotal role in a food import bribery scheme at the Tachira-Colombia border.

Faria makes no apologies for his friendship with Vielma Mora, acknowledging that the controversial former governor is his daughter’s godfather, but denied that the relationship benefited him financially.

“That never happened, never happened. They [the Venezuelan press] have investigated these claims and have tried to run false allegations [...] But nobody has found an invoice, nobody has found a contract,” Faria said.

Faria said he never got paid what he was owed for a 15.5-mile stretch of a pilot project in Tachira, and said he has moved on to paving projects in Argentina and Paraguay. He provided photos of himself attending political events in both countries.

When Faria exported Epstein’s plane to Venezuela, he listed the buyer as Total Vitalis de Venezuela, another Faria-owned company in Caracas.

Total Vitalis was a pre-existing firm that Faria bought, he said. Prior owners had imported chemicals and medical supplies. The company has closed, he said, and he has no operating companies in Venezuela now.

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This 2015 photo posted on the public Instagram page of Venezuelan beauty queen Veruzhka Ramirez shows then-Tachira Gov. Jose Gregorio Vielma Mora playing with Ramirez’s daughter, Sofia. Vielma Mora became godfather to the child. He was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department on July 25, 2019, for participation in an alleged food bribery scheme.

Venezuelan media had found nearly $1 million in government payments to Total Vitalis for unspecified import of healthcare products in 2014, but Faria suggested it was the prior owner.

Big Africa plans, small footprint

Faria appears intrepid in his palm oil business. There is little in English about his ventures but more in German and Portuguese.

In an interview, Faria said he invests in palm oil in Mozambique, Ghana, the Congo region and Guinea-Bissau.

Faria said he did not have any investment partners beyond the poor farmers from whom he purchases. An article in the Ghanian press showed that at least one member of the executive team that traveled with him is Marielis Ontiveros, a former Miss Vargas in 2008, a Venezuelan state.

The other two executives in the photo have unconventional backgrounds for an agriculture business.

Carlos Gomez, according to his profile on LinkedIn, is African Palm’s chief financial officer, whose profile boasts, “Determined to bring crypto to Mainstreet.”

Gomez’s predecessor, Marc Mesa, is in the photo, and his LinkedIn profile describes him as an experienced foreign exchange trader, a position he held in London years earlier.

The palm oil produced in the African nations will be consumed in those countries, Faria said, and some of it exported. He declined to name buyers or export markets targeted.

Faria also declined to provide contacts in Guinea-Bissau, saying communication would be too difficult.

A Portuguese-language blog, Bambaram di Padida, featured a story on Faria in February 2018, saying he planned a 10-year investment to produce palm oil in Bubaque, the main town of the Bijagos Islands off the coast of Guinea-Bissau.

The remote island has a population under 7,000 inhabitants, generates some tourism and once had palm oil production in support of the German defense industry.

In June 2018, Faria’s African Football Corporation announced a 10-year deal to work with Guinea-Bissau’s leaders to create a national soccer team and a private league. The goal was to have the team ranked in the top 50 national teams by 2020. (They were ranked 123rd in the world this past summer.)

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Manuel Irenio Lopes Nascimento, president of the Guinea-Bissau Football Federation, and Oscar A. Faria, president and CEO of African Football Corp. African Football Corp.

In its latest country report on Guinea-Bissau, the U.S. State Department noted the West African country historically “has been a transit hub” for drug trafficking from South America to Europe.

“Drug trafficking, corruption and related crimes pose a serious challenge to the capability of Guinea-Bissau to progress on a path to democracy,” the State Department said.

Faria himself has not been accused of wrongdoing by any law enforcement agency.

“They have investigated me for everything. They accused me of being here illegally, that I was seeking asylum, and they were claiming that they needed to kick me out,” Faria said. “They criticize my wife because she is a beauty queen, and because now people love to get followers by spreading lies on Instagram.”

Sylke Gruhnwald from the Swiss publication Republik contributed

Kevin G. Hall: 202-383-6038, @Kevin G. Hall; Antonio Delgado: 305-376-2180, @DelgadoAntonioM; Ben Wieder: 202-383-6125, @BenBWieder



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