Alex Constantine - November 5, 2012
By New Times staff
Broward-Palm Beach New Times, November 2, 2012
Ricardo Poma, proprietor of the Transal Corp., linked to the planc crash in Nicaragua that triggered the Iran contra exposures: "Documents found in the plane's wreckage listed CIA contractors working on the operation and included the contact information for Transal. ... Transal's employees have been generous supporters of Romney's political career, donating $4,000 to his 1994 Senate race and nearly $20,000 to his two presidential campaigns"
Was Bain Capital, the company founded by presidential candidate Mitt Romney, built with help from covert Iran-contra operatives?
New information uncovered by New Times raises the possibility.
The story starts in 1984, when Romney solicited start-up money for Bain at a meeting in Miami with a small group of Latin American oligarchs. They eventually provided nearly 40 percent of the outside seed-money that began Bain, the firm on which Romney has built most of his fortune and much of his case for the presidency.
Several media outlets, including the Huffington Post, have reported that some of these investors were members of families with ties to El Salvadoran death squads. Romney has said Bain vetted the investors and their families for such ties.
Romney forged a particularly close relationship with Ricardo Poma, a right-wing billionaire from El Salvador, who became a partner at Bain and the leader of the Latin American investors.
Poma owns Transal Corp., a small family real-estate firm formerly at 848 Brickell Avenue in Miami. In 1986, Transal's address, phone number, and the names of two employees and its president turned up in the CIA transport plane whose crash sparked the Iran-contra scandal, according to a Palm Beach Post report just days after the crash.
The plane, piloted by a Wisconsin man named Eugene Hasenfus, was shown to be smuggling arms to Nicaragua as part of an illegal White House plot to prop up the contras with proceeds from arms sales to Iran's Ayatollah. Documents found in the plane's wreckage listed CIA contractors working on the operation and included the contact information for Transal.
Two shell companies listed at Transal's address, office suite 700-A, provided more than a half-million dollars for the inaugural Bain fund that Poma was managing. Poma chipped in another $3 million.
Transal's president, Eduardo Poma, also became an investor in Bain, two years after his name appeared on the documents in the plane. And Transal's employees have been generous supporters of Romney's political career, donating $4,000 to his 1994 Senate race and nearly $20,000 to his two presidential campaigns.
New Times could not get comment from Transal or Bain about the tie. Romney's campaign emailed an excerpt from a Boston Globe article that said a Bain partner assured a "terrified" Romney that the investors were the best and brightest of Central America.
Days after the plane crash, Eduardo Poma told The Palm Beach Post he had no idea why he and Transal were on the documents in the CIA plane, and denied any involvement. (Ricardo Poma has not responded to claims of death squad ties.)
But there is one more wrinkle. Transal's vice president in the 1980s was a contra official named David Raskosky. He set up a Miami company that took a $10,000 disbursement from Oliver North, the infamous military officer in charge of Iran-contra, according to testimony from congressional hearings.
"Absolutely no connection to Iran-contra," Raskosky said in a 40-minute phone call.
A Bain spokeswoman said the firm was preparing a statement but later said, "There has been a change of thinking, and the firm isn't going to provide a statement."
-- Penn Bullock