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Sunday, February 13

Did Banco Bilbao Fail To Pay ETA Extortion Money?

If this fire was carried out by Basque separatists, then we may have to re-visit the hypothesis that Al-Queda was responsible for the Madrid train bombing. Here's why: Zapatero was expected to negotiate with the Basque Separatists and reach an agreement with the ETA, which fell through Tuesday. The Basques then responded Wednesday with a bomb attack, and then again set fire to the Banco Bilbao corporate offices on February 12th to coincide with the date of Chilean independence. BBVM, whose profits soared in 2004 has been under fire for allegededly paying the ETA extorion/blackmail money which allowed former Chairman Emilio Ybarra to walk freely through the streets of Madrid without bodyguards. If the fire affect BBVA negatively, it could affect wire transfers between Mexico and the USA.

Bloomberg: Feb. 13 (Bloomberg) -- A blaze in Madrid destroyed a 32- story downtown office building mostly occupied by Deloitte & Touche LLP, the largest U.S. accounting firm. Fire services haven't ruled out the possibility that the block could collapse. . . . The Windsor Building is also close to a block that houses the executive offices of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, Spain's second-largest bank.

The ETA Basque Separatists may have set this fire. They've bombed Banco Bilbao before Back in 2000, the ETA identified Banco Bilbao chairman Emilio Ybarra for having done damage to the Basque homeland:

"ETA also said it had set off two car bombs in two affluent suburbs of Bilbao aimed at people who were "responsible for serious damage to the Basque homeland," including Emilio Ybarra, chairman of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria. No one was killed in either attack. The statement added that some of the group's attacks were aimed at leading members of the Basque business elite for not paying the so-called "revolutionary tax," which is the money the group gets from extortion. "

Of interest is Ybarra's family name, which translates to "bank" in the sense of a river bank - in this case a financial instituion. As for the extorion money, Banco Bilbao may have reneged on a previous agreement to pay off the ETA. The BBC stated in2002:

"A Spanish judge has launched a criminal investigation into the country's second largest bank, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA), over secret accounts which, it is alleged, were used to make political pay-offs at home and abroad. Judge Baltasar Garzon - famous for his attempt to prosecute former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for the murder of Spanish citizens - has taken over the probe from the central bank. . . . Spanish news reports have claimed the accounts were used to influence politicians and business deals, pay protection money to ETA - the armed Basque separatist group - and fund Hugo Chavez's successful bid for president of Venezuela, where the bank has significant interests. "

Oh man, now we have Chavez inserted into this story.

VCrisis "Two payments were made by the BBVA to aspiring president Chavez; one in December 1998 for $525.586 and another in July 1999 for $1 million. Section 4 of article 25 of Venezuela's Law of Political Parties, dealing with obligations, prohibits the acceptance of contributions from foreign companies or from companies whose HQs are based abroad. . . .

The Judge investigating the case came up against nothing but roadblocks due to offshore tax havens:

"Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon has run up against the airtight secrecy of authorities in several tax havens, which is frustrating his campaign of investigations into alleged money laundering, tax evasion and embezzlement of funds, and even possible blackmail payments to the illegal Basque organisation ETA. . . . Judge Garzon is investigating the opening of secret accounts and movement of funds in Delaware, Cayman Islands, Jersey and Puerto Rico by the Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA), one of Spain's two largest banking entities and which has invested heavily in Latin America. The combined deposits held some 200 million dollars, which were legalised and transferred to the BBVA headquarters in Spain in February 2001 at the behest of then co-president of the bank, Francisco Gonzalez, who today is the entity's sole president. The investigation has already prompted the resignation of most of the bank's board members, whose mandate dated back to the pre- merger Banco Bilbao, including former co-president Emilio Ybarra."

Banco Bilbao Profit Rises 52 Percent on Latin America (Update3) Gonzalez, who's headed BBVA for five years, last month spurned the construction company Sacyr Vallehermoso SA's request to gain board seats in return for buying more than 3 percent of the bank's stock. Sacyr, whose market value is one-13th that of BBVA, said the lender's management could be improved. . . . BBVA has focused its foreign expansion on Mexico and the Hispanic population along the southern United States border. Mexico's economy has grown to three-quarters the size of Spain's. . . . Meanwhile, the end of 25 years of silence by Juan Antonio de Ybarra e Ybarra, son of Javier de Ybarra and cousin of Emilio, the former BBVA co-president, put Garzon on another trail of clues. Juan Antonio de Ybarra e Ybarra mentioned that many people are suspicious of the fact that some bank executives - alluding to his own cousin - move freely through the Basque city of Bilbao without the need for bodyguards. In Bilbao, as in the rest of Basque Country, politicians, bank executives and journalists are nearly always accompanied by armed guards due to threats from ETA, a separatist group that has already assassinated many of their colleagues in the region. When the BBVA board met in Bilbao, Emilio Ybarra did not have bodyguards, while co-president Francisco Gonalez did. That prompted suspicions, which Juan Antonio de Ybarra e Ybarra alluded to, that his cousin had handed over money to ETA, possibly coming from accounts in the tax havens. Garzon opened another investigation into the illegal financing of ETA, an organisation that uses blackmail of business executives and other mechanisms to collect funds. As a result of that enquiry, he ordered the arrest Monday of 12 people and is conducting a probe to determine whether there are ties to the BBVA case."

So here we have a bank that has fuelled the rise of Hugo Chavez to power in Venezueala in addition to laundering extortion money to pay off the ETA, and had its corporate office firebombed. The real question, then, is WHY?

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