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Boris Johnson’s secret Venezuela trip to meet President Maduro ‘paid for by hedge fund’

Boris Johnson’s secret trip to meet Venezuela’s autocratic president Nicolas Maduro last month was paid for by a hedge fund that stands to gain from improved relations between the West and the Latin American republic, it has been claimed.

The former prime minister was accompanied on the visit by Maarten Petermann, the founder of Merlyn Advisors, for which he works as a paid consultant.

Mr Johnson took time out from a holiday in the Caribbean to travel by private jet for the talks, and Mr Peterman sat in on discussions with the president, The Sunday Times reported.

Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the visit was to ‘emphasise the need for Venezuela to embrace a proper democratic process’ (Getty)
Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the visit was to ‘emphasise the need for Venezuela to embrace a proper democratic process’ (Getty)

He has said the talks were to “emphasise the need for Venezuela to embrace a proper democratic process”.

A spokesman for Mr Johnson also said he “set out the case for the cause of Ukrainian victory to the government of Venezuela.”

And they said the ex-PM “repeatedly made clear there can be no hope of normalisation in relations until Venezuela fully embraces democracy and respects the territorial integrity of its neighbours”.

The UK does not accept the legitimacy of Mr Maduro’s administration, with the president having been in power for 11 years.

But Mr Johnson did not mention that the trip was funded by Merlyn and that he has been paid for consultancy work and speeches by the firm, or that Mr Petermann had accompanies him.

But The Sunday Times reported that Mr Petermann, a former senior banker at the investment bank JP Morgan, sat in on his talks with the Venezuelan president.

Mr Petermann has privately expressed frustration at the state of relations with Venezuela, warning that it would drive Mr Maduro into the hands of hostile countries such as Russia.

Sources told The Sunday Times Mr Petermann has repeatedly raised his inability to trade the country’s sovereign debt, the buying and selling of which was banned under Trump-era US sanctions designed to force Mr Maduro from office.

And, describing the exchange between Mr Johnson and Mr Maduro, one told the paper: “It was a robust exchange which focused entirely on democracy and human rights and Ukraine. The Chavistas have banned their principal opponent Maria Corina Machado from appearing on the ballot paper. Boris Johnson told Maduro that in a democracy the people, not politicians, decide who should be elected.

“He said there was no hope of normalisation with the West as long as she was off the ballot paper. Maduro said she was a traitor who sided with the United States. Boris said it should be up to the people to judge.”

Mr Maduro was re-elected in 2018 but only after judges banned his main opponents from taking part, a move which plunged the country into a severe political and economic crisis.

Nicolas Maduro was re-elected in 2018 but only after judges banned his main opponents from taking part (AP)
Nicolas Maduro was re-elected in 2018 but only after judges banned his main opponents from taking part (AP)

Since then, Venezuela has come under intense international pressure to hold a free and fair election.

Tensions were also inflamed last year when the country claimed sovereignty over a disputed oil-and-mineral-rich area of neighbouring Guyana.

The UK minister for the Americas and Caribbean, David Rutley, met with Guyanese president Irfaan Ali in December to stress the government’s backing for the former British colony.

Foreign secretary Lord Cameron was told of the summit via text message when Mr Johnson was already en route.

Boris Johnson and Merlyn Advisors have been contacted for comment.