Some of the first investors in Mitt Romney’s firm Bain Capital, according to a report on the Los Angeles Times, were Salvadoran families living in Miami with members accused by the US government of funding death squads in the brutal civil war in El Salvador.
When Bain Capital was founded in 1984, Romney and his partners had trouble raising funds for their initial investments. “$9 million came from rich Latin Americans,” the Times reports, “including powerful Salvadoran families living in Miami.… At the time, U.S. officials were publicly accusing some exiles in Miami of funding right-wing death squads in El Salvador. Some family members of the first Bain Capital investors were later linked to groups responsible for killings.”
The civil war in El Salvador lasted from 1980 to 1992 and killed more than 70,000 Salvadorans. It started after Archbishop Óscar Romero was assassinated while giving a mass shortly after he published an open letter to President Carter asking him to cut off US military aid to the Salvadoran military regime.
The Times reporters found no direct evidence that the accused Salvadorans themselves “invested in Bain or benefited from it”—it was “family members” of Bain investors who were linked to the killings.
Romney himself made a trip to Miami in 1984 to raise money for Bain from the Salvadorans. “The group included some of El Salvador’s wealthiest people,” the Times reports, including coffee exporters Francisco R.R. de Sola and his cousin Herbert Arturo de Sola. His brother, Orlando de Sola, according to the Times, was “suspected by State Department officials and the CIA of backing the right-wing death squads, according to now-declassified documents.”
Orlando de Sola has denied supporting the death squads. He is now serving a four-year prison term for “unrelated fraud charges.” Reporters from the LA Times interviewed him at the prison in Metapan, El Salvador. He told them he “did not benefit from the family investment in Bain Capital.” He added that his family’s “relationship with Bain Capital was a step to diversify into foreign investments. But I insist to you, I was not part of it.”
The other Latin American investors declined or did not respond to requests from the Times for comment.
The Salvadorans hid their investment in Bain by working through shell companies set up in Panama, “then known for tax advantages and unusual banking secrecy.” The Times quoted Steven H. Hagen, a Miami lawyer who provides tax advice to offshore companies and international investors, describing Panama in the 1980s as “the country of choice for foreigners wanting to make investments on a confidential basis.”
The reporters on the story, Joseph Tanfani, Melanie Mason and Matea Gold, relied on Bain documents in Massachusetts corporate filings and other public records. The documents show that Bain Capital was “enmeshed in the largely opaque world of international high finance from its very inception.” The reporters added that “the documents don’t indicate any wrongdoing” by Bain or Romney.
For more, see Justin Elliot’s January report at Salon.com.