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Cablegate: Nicaragua: Bancentro Denies Role in Microfinance

VZCZCXYZ0005
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHMU #0929/01 2672141
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 242141Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4587
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAGUA 000929

SIPDIS

STATE PASS OPIC

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/23/2029
TAGS: EFIN ECON NU
SUBJECT: NICARAGUA: BANCENTRO DENIES ROLE IN MICROFINANCE
EMBEZZLEMENT

REF: MANAGUA 625

Classified By: DCM Richard M. Sanders for reasons 1.4 b & d.

1. (C) Summary: In a conversation with the DCM and Econcouns
on September 18, BANCENTRO Managing Director Julio Cardenas
defended his bank's handling of microfinance institution
ACODEP's accounts in the wake of allegation that a former
ACODEP president embezzled more than $3 million from the
microfinance institution in February and March 2009. He said
BANCENTRO complied with all regulatory and legal requirements
in denying the new ACODEP president access to accounts held
at BANCENTRO until September 2009. Cardenas reported that
twelve checks cashed at BANCENTRO by accomplices of the
former ACODEP president were "routine transactions" that
merited no additional scrutiny, despite the fact that
infighting at ACODEP was well known at the time. Finally,
Cardenas expressed some reluctance to formally investigate
whether there was any wrongdoing on the part of a senior
BANCENTRO employee whose husband is alleged to have cashed
one of those twelve checks for $250,000 at BANCENTRO as an
accomplice to the embezzlement scheme, suggesting there was
no reason to sully the bank employee's reputation. The DCM
encouraged Cardenas to fully investigate and document these
issues. End summary.

2. (C) Banco de Credito Centroamericano (BANCENTRO), the
second largest bank in Nicaragua, provides banking services
for the U.S. Embassy and benefits from lines of credit
totaling $37 million with the Overseas Private Investment
Corporation (OPIC). In a conversation with the DCM and
Econcouns on September 18, 2009, Managing Director of
BANCENTRO Julio Cardenas addressed, in his words, "questions
raised about whether BANCENTRO had a role in the embezzlement
of funds from microfinance institution ACODEP." He said
BANCENTRO President Roberto Zamora had tasked him with
providing the Embassy complete information on the issue.
Zamora had provided information on the case earlier in the
week to OPIC officials, Cardenas advised.

3. (C) Cardenas began with a lengthy defense of BANCENTRO's
refusal to provide Julio Paniagua access to accounts at the
bank after he became president of ACODEP in the wake of the
removal of his predecessor, Armando Garcia, over charges that
he embezzled more than $3 million from the microfinance
institution (Ref A and septel). The Interior Ministry
recognized Paniagua's appointment in May 2009, but it was not
until September 2009 that BANCENTRO gave him access to
ACODEP's accounts. Cardenas read most of a five-page
chronology of BANCENTRO's actions on this point, referencing
extensive correspondence among the bank, ACODEP, the
Superintendency of Banks and Financial Entities, and the
Ministry of the Interior. He concluded that his bank had
complied with all regulatory and legal requirements in this
matter.

4. (C) The DCM asked Cardenas to address allegations that
BANCENTRO had cashed checks presented by accomplices of
Garcia in February and March 2009, despite the fact that
infighting over control of ACODEP had already become well
known in the financial industry and was the subject of
several press reports. Cardenas acknowledged that twelve
checks -- lucrative severance payments that Garcia paid out
to his accomplices -- were cashed at BANCENTRO branches. He
called these "routine transactions" and said he did not know
at which branches the checks were cashed. Cardenas explained
that nothing about the transactions would have aroused the
suspicion of bank tellers, since Garcia had legal authority
to access ACODEP's accounts at that time. Cardenas claimed
that to have refused these checks could have created legal
difficulties with Garcia for BANCENTRO.

5. (C) Cardenas acknowledged that one individual implicated
in the embezzlement scheme, Alfonso Llanes, was married to
the manager of BANCENTRO's headquarters Managua branch,
Sheila Llanes. Cardenes said Alfonso Llanes was one of the
twelve Garcia accomplices who cashed a check at BANCENTRO.
(Note: In a separate conversation with Econcouns, ACODEP
President Paniagua said Llanes' severance payment was
$250,000 for three-weeks of work. End note.) Nonetheless,
Cardenas said BANCENTRO had no reason to believe that the
marital relationship between Alfonso and Sheila Llanes played
any role in the embezzlement. When asked about whether the
bank had launched an internal investigation into the matter
to determine whether there was any wrongdoing on the part of
Sheila Llanes, Cardenas responded that there was no need to
sully the reputation of a BANCENTRO employee who had achieved
a stellar record over the past 15 years.


6. (C) The DCM thanked Cardenas for his explanation of
BANCENTRO's relationship with ACODEP but encouraged him to
fully investigate and document these issues. The DCM
suggested that such a report would help set the record
straight and once and for all assuage concerns that BANCENTRO
or one of its employees had somehow facilitated the
embezzlement of funds from ACODEP. Cardenas said he would
consult with bank President Roberto Zamora about the idea.

7. (C) Comment: We are surprised that, despite the well-known
controversy surrounding ACODEP, the presentation of twelve
checks for large sums, including one for $250,000, did not
arouse suspicion. By contrast, at the time the checks where
cashed at BANCENTRO, local bank BANPRO had already frozen
ACODEP accounts pending resolution of the fight for control
of the institution. Furthermore, we are surprised that
BANCENTRO did not investigate the relationship between its
branch manager and one of the alleged beneficiaries of the
embezzlement of funds from ACODEP. We hope that BANCENTRO
takes on board our suggestion to fully investigate and
document these issues. End comment.
CALLAHAN

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