Latin Music’s Rimas Label Was Launched By Investor Tied to Hugo Chávez – Billboard

For Rimas Entertainment CEO Noah Assad, it was a night to celebrate. On Feb. 1, seven years after signing Bad Bunny, Assad, 32, took the stage to accept the Executive of the Year award at the annual Grammy-week Billboard Power 100 event to honor the most important executives in the business. In front of an audience that included Universal Music Group CEO Lucian Grainge, HYBE Chairman Bang Si-hyuk and music mogul Clive Davis, Assad, sporting white sneakers and a ponytail, accepted the award from fellow Puerto Rican Bad Bunny. Minutes later, manager and executive Scooter Braun told Assad from the stage: “You’re the best of us now.”

Bad Bunny’s fifth studio album, Un Verano Sin Ti, ended the year at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 — the first non-English album to do so — and his 81 concerts in 2022 grossed a record $434.9 million. Assad was the force behind a lot of this success, as the artist himself noted onstage. “There is no Bad Bunny superstar without Noah,” he said in halting English, then handed Assad the obelisk-shaped plaque. “Without [Bad Bunny],” Assad said as he accepted the award, “a lot of my dreams would have never become true.”

The same could be said of another figure, Rafael Ricardo Jiménez Dan, who founded Rimas nine years ago but has had no interaction with Bad Bunny or the company’s other stars. He went unmentioned in Assad’s acceptance speech, andfew of the executives in that room even knew that he existed. Jiménez says he was the sole owner of Rimas — which manages, records and publishes Bad Bunny — until 2018, when he says he made Assad a 40% owner, though a source close to Assad disputes that description of their initial deal. Before that, Jiménez had been a vice minister in authoritarian leader Hugo Chávez’s Venezuelan government; while in the regime he worked to modernize the country’s information systems and was charged with helping oversee the development of a national ID that Chávez wanted to deepen his control over the populace.

Also unknown to most of the Power 100 attendees, Assad had spent the last few months embroiled in negotiations, which were so intense they continued through the year-end holidays, that would buy Jiménez out of Rimas. After working to build Rimas together for nearly a decade, the relationship between the two men broke down, and for the past five years, multiple sources say, Assad has been pushing to get him out, for “business reasons,” says the source close to him. When Rimas was initially formed in March 2014, Assad believed Jiménez was simply an investor who owned restaurants and packaging companies. 

After they started working together, Assad began to hear talk about Jiménez’s connections to the Chávez regime, but when Assad inquired on one occasion, Jiménez told him he had “nothing to hide,” according to the source close to Assad. Now, though, Jimenez may finally be on his way out.

Under the terms of Sony Music Group’s potential deal with Rimas, which is still under discussion, Sony would put up capital toward buying out the 60% stake owned by Jiménez and, through an ownership restructuring, assign a significant minority stake to its independent distribution subsidiary, The Orchard. Bad Bunny, who does not currently have a stake in Rimas, could get some equity and Assad could get a bigger stake in the company, which Billboard estimates could be valued at more than $300 million overall, not including publishing. Together, sources say, Assad and Bad Bunny would likely emerge from the deal controlling Rimas, although the agreement is still being discussed. A separate Rimas publishing arm, also believed to be 60% owned by Jiménez and 40% by Assad, which Billboard estimates is worth about $70 million, will likely be sold in a separate deal, sources say.

Jiménez, Assad and a spokesperson for Sony Music Entertainment declined to comment about any deal in the works.

The size of the potential deal speaks to the growing sway of Latin music and especially of Bad Bunny, who has helped grow the San Juan-based Rimas into a 100-person company that essentially functions as a label, publisher, manager and booking agency and also works with other Latin artists like Arcángel and Karol G.

In a series of email exchanges through his lawyer, Jiménez gave Billboard an unprecedented look at his unlikely journey from an army captain raised in Portuguesa, a rural part of Venezuela, to one of music’s most successful behind-the-scenes investors. The image that emerges is that of a savvy operator who positioned his business enterprises in ways that benefitted from his government connections in Venezuela — and who in both his five-year government career and his second life in the U.S. music business has remained out of public view while playing a role in the lives of prominent people, like an unseen gravitational force. 

Jiménez, 56, who played violin in Venezuela’s youth orchestra system and got his first taste in the music industry managing a Venezuelan urban duo, formed at least a dozen companies from 2005 to 2013, in Venezuela and the Caribbean, and he also served as CEO of a cardboard and paper packaging firm that Chávez nationalized. He tells Billboard that the funding to start Rimas and his life in the United States came from a Miami restaurant and from a company that imported food products from Brazil and other countries.

Assad was always thought to be the co-founder of Rimas. Although he privately acknowledged the company had a silent partner, he previously told Billboard on the record that he co-founded the company with José “Junior” Carabaño, a 20-year-old Venezuelan graffiti artist. But Jiménez tells Billboard that after meeting a 22-year-old Assad in 2012, he formed Rimas in Puerto Rico in March 2014 and hired Assad as an employee — an arrangement that continued until 2018, when Assad became part-owner after he “agreed to assume more responsibilities.” A source close to Assad disputes that claim but wouldn’t provide more detail. Billboard was unable to obtain documentation of the initial deal terms.

Assad “demonstrated a great talent in the artist development side of the business and worked hard to scale up the growth of the company,” Jiménez says, adding that he brought Assad aboard as part of “a strong team of talented people were brought aboard to take over the day-to-day operations.” 

Jiménez would not tell Billboard how much he initially invested in Rimas. A 2017 corporate filing for Risamar Business Group, the entity Jiménez used to hold his share of Rimas, shows $1.34 million in assets and $648,098 in liabilities. Property records show that, in 2014, while still living in Caracas, Venezuela, Jiménez also purchased a foreclosed property in an exclusive beachfront neighborhood in San Juan for $390,000 in cash to turn into Rimas’ first offices and recording studios.

Rimas Entertainment's first office in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Rimas Entertainment’s first office in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Juan R. Costa

Assad served as the face of Rimas in the music business, but Jiménez says he led the company for four years before effectively handing the reins to Assad. Until then, Jiménez had to approve — and often vetoed — artist signings that would exceed the company’s budget, and he was also kept apprised of the label’s other big decisions, including the very important one to sign Bad Bunny. Jiménez was copied on the April 11, 2016, email from Rimas attorney Jessie Abad to Assad about the “360 deal and songwriter agreement” for Benito Martínez Ocasio (Bad Bunny), according to a copy of a partially redacted email in a civil case in San Juan and one person familiar with the matter. 

From Army Captain to Vice Minister

Like many leaders in Venezuela, Jiménez’s career started at a military academy. He graduated in 1987, No. 3 in his class. He finished the same year as Diosdado Cabello and Jesse Chacón, he noted, both of whom participated in Chávez-directed coup attempts in 1992; Rodolfo Marco Torres was a class below them. All three went on to become high-level officials in the Chávez regime.

Venezuela’s legacy as one of the wealthiest and most-stable democracies in the region began to change on Feb. 4, 1992, when Chávez, then a disaffected army officer, led a failed coup attempt. Once out of prison, he rose to fame and was elected president in 1998 on an anti-establishment platform. A disciple of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, he later veered toward autocratic socialism by silencing opposition parties, packing the courts, harassing the media and nationalizing more than 1,000 businesses.

While Chávez’s “missions to save the people” initially helped stem poverty, his policies laid the foundation for the oil-rich country’s descent into full-blown dictatorship after his death in 2013. His legacy also included “an institutionalized kleptocracy the likes of which the world has never seen before,” Marshall Billingslea, former assistant secretary for the Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes in the U.S. Treasury Department, wrote in 2021. Over the past two decades, Chávez and Maduro, his successor, “and their cronies,” Billingslea wrote, “plundered at least $300 billion from state assets.”

Hugo Chavez

President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez gives a speech during the closing session of the 4th PetroCaribe Summit in the Camilo Cienfuegos refinery Dec. 21, 2007 in Cienfuegos, Cuba.

Sven Creutzmann/Mambo photo/GI

Jiménez, who was commissioned as an army captain, retired from the military in 1999, by which time he had earned degrees in both law and systems engineering. Once Chávez took power in 1999, the new president initiated a sweeping modernization program, and Jiménez’s knowledge of telematics, which involves the long-distance transmission of computerized information, proved valuable. He joined the government in late 2002, serving initially in a management and technical unit that oversaw the operational side of the Judiciary, helping to digitize the country’s law enforcement and criminal and civil administration.

After he was briefly ousted from office in 2002, Chávez launched Misión Identidad (Mission Identity), a program that became a cornerstone of his “Bolivarian Missions,” or social programs, and a way for him to tighten his hold on power after the failed coup —at the expense of civil liberties. Its focus became developing a national ID card with biometric data embedded in a chip that would be modeled after China’s smart card, which Beijing uses to track social, economic and political behavior. Chávez launched his ID program in 2003, employing a Cuban company to help implement it, according to the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS), a conservative national security think tank in Washington, D.C., that has testified in Congress about the dangers of the Venezuelan regime.

Mission Identity involved transitioning Venezuela’s passport and naturalization system from what was called ONIDEX to the higher capacity SAIME system. Beginning around 2003, Jiménez worked with a hand-picked team on the automation of the project, according to two people familiar with the matter. SAIME went online in 2009. President Nicolás Maduro, Chávez’s successor, finally rolled out the national ID, later called the carnet de la patria, or “fatherland ID,” in 2018. (Jiménez would not comment on whether he worked on the transition to SAIME.)

Jiménez’s government career peaked in March 2006 when Chacón appointed him vice minister of legal security in the Interior Ministry. That led to a seemingly plum assignment the following January when he became one of five directors of Mission Identity, according to a government document.

Chávez officials in 2007 allegedly used Mission Identity to provide false identities to Cuban agents to enter Venezuela, and to facilitate the travel of suspected Islamist terrorists, Colombian guerillas and drug traffickers, says the SFS.

Despite his official designation as a director, Jiménez says he “personally never worked with Mission Identity” and that the directorate had “no decision-making authority.” He resigned from the Interior Ministry after about a year and a half, “due to frustration with the government’s unwillingness to fairly and justly apply the rule of law.” (Jiménez provided a copy of his resignation letter signed on Oct. 11, 2007, by Pedro Carreño, the Interior Minister at the time.) He adds that he “sought to implement several projects aimed [at] improving legal certainty, to guarantee a better participation of the civil society and to increase the standards of transparency but these were obstructed and stopped by the minister (Carreño) above him.”

Jiménez overlapped in the Interior Ministry by about five months with Tareck El Aissami, a powerful member of the regime who served as a vice minister through September 2008, and then as Interior Minister from 2008 to 2012. The Trump administration sanctioned El Aissami in 2017 and the Justice Department indicted him in 2019 for alleged international narcotics trafficking and money laundering; U.S. Treasury officials have also been investigating his ties to the terrorist group Hezbollah. (El Aissami responded to the accusations in 2017 on Twitter, calling them “infamy and aggression; Maduro said he had “delivered the strongest blows against the heads of drug trafficking” in Venezuela.)

Tareck El Aissami

Venezuela’s Vice President Tareck El Aissami delivers a speech during a rally against the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, in Caracas on March 28, 2017.


El Aissami was the chief architect of the national ID program, according to Joseph Humire, who heads the SFS, and who testified to Congress about the program in 2015. El Aissami also allegedly oversaw a multiyear program to sell hundreds, if not thousands, of legitimate Venezuelan passports for as much as $50,000 apiece to people from Middle Eastern countries, says Mauricio Claver-Carone, former senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council. (Delcy Rodríguez, then Venezuela’s foreign minister, told CNN in 2017 that allegations of selling passports and visas were “totally” false.)

Through his lawyer, Jiménez says he has “no knowledge” of the passport-selling program and “has never had any personal, business or political relationship with Mr. El Aissami.” Jiménez’ lawyer adds that “the presence of individuals like Mr. El Aissami was one of the factors that led Mr. Jiménez to resign.” 

On the Money

Jiménez was initially reluctant to discuss his investment in Rimas, which he first told Billboard derived from “private business activity,” without offering more details. He later clarified that the funding came from a food import company and a restaurant in Miami, as well as a line of credit he said was from a bank in Florida, “which was secured by his assets in Florida.”

Risamar Business Group also controls a Florida-based food company of the same name. The company’s website says it specializes in “high-quality, ethically produced snack foods, canned fruits and vegetables, cleaning supplies and animal care products.”

In October 2006, at the peak of his career in the Chávez regime, Jiménez also started an import-export food company in Venezuela, Agropecuario Ravigg C.A. It imported food to Venezuela from Brazil, Argentina and other countries, generating a net profit of 8,897,246 bolívares ($1.4 million) in 2013, according to the Registry of National Contractors (RNC). Ravigg shipments from January to May of 2014 alone totaled $7.9 million in value, according to Venezuela’s National Center for Foreign Commerce (CENCOEX). The firm, which is 85% owned by Jiménez and still operates, did business as food shortages were beginning to mount in the country after the price of oil plummeted. Food imports became controversial in 2019 when the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned a Colombian national and others for allegedly orchestrating a scheme that enabled Maduro and his regime to “significantly profit from food imports and distribution in Venezuela” as far back as 2016. (Ravigg was not named in the sanctions.)

When asked to clarify if Ravigg was the company he was talking about that helped him fund Rimas, Jiménez said it was not and that he had been referring to a third “international food-trading entity,” founded in 2008, which he declined to name.

Jiménez also handled a variety of Venezuelan government contracts through Rialfi Consulting C.A., a company he set up in August 2005, seven months before joining the Interior Ministry. By the following August, when he was a vice minister, Rialfi landed a contract with the Venezuelan Institute of Social Services (IVSS), which manages employee pension funds. 

Between 2006 and 2018, Rialfi completed 17 contracts, 15 of which were with government-controlled companies or institutions, including the national oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, the Bank of the Treasury and Banco de Venezuela. (Jiménez was still listed as CEO in 2019; Rialfi is 100% owned by Consorcio Riso C.A., which Jiménez also controls.)

In an email, Jiménez says no funds from Rialfi were invested in Rimas and notes that with the “year-to-year devaluation of the bolívar, those proceeds would have had very little value if they were ever converted to dollars.” (A government document from 2019 shows Rialfi had total assets of 2.84 billion bolívares, worth $6,100 in December of that year, when the currency was cratering from hyperinflation of 9,586%.) 

After Jiménez resigned from the Interior Ministry in October 2007, he didn’t stop doing business with the government. Since Jiménez left his post, Rialfi has executed at least 14 contracts with Chávez-controlled companies or institutions, according to the 2019 document. Jiménez says the contracts were granted “via a public bidding process.”

Jiménez, downplays his government service, describing himself as “an entrepreneur for over 20 years in different industries, including food and beverage, technology, packaging, hospitality and entertainment.” In April 2010, the board of Envases Internacionales S.A., a cardboard and paper packaging firm, named him CEO (and majority shareholder, he says); two months later, Chávez nationalized the company, in what became a common practice of appointing current or former military officers to lead companies the government had taken over. 

Jiménez eventually controlled or ran at least 15 companies in Venezuela and Panama, and later in Barbados, Florida and Puerto Rico, according to corporate records. 

He made his first foray into the music industry in Caracas in 2011, when he started managing and funding Kent & Tony, a newly formed urban act. The duo wanted to work with Puerto Rican producers Los de la Nazza, and in October 2012, Assad, their manager, flew with the producers to Caracas to work with the Venezuelans in the studio. Jiménez asked Assad to also manage Kent & Tony, and in January 2014, they signed a license agreement with Siente Music.

After that, Jiménez moved quickly, founding Rimas two months later in Puerto Rico, when he saw an opportunity “for a well-run full-service independent label focused on a genre that was growing exponentially.”

Helpful to the early interactions between Assad and Jiménez, say two people familiar with the matter, was Carabaño, the son of a Venezuelan folk singer from Barquisimeto popular with military veterans. Later, working with Assad at Rimas, Carabaño signed Venezuelan artists like rapper Big Soto. (Carabaño did not respond to requests for an interview.)

After Chávez died in 2013, Jiménez left Venezuela in November 2014, he says, and moved to the Miami area, where he had already bought a house in 2008 for $925,000 with his now wife Dayva Soto Vallenilla, a former Venezuelan judge, in Weston, a suburb known as Westonzuela for its popularity with Venezuelans. They purchased the home about six months after Jiménez left the Chávez government. They emigrated at a time when U.S. officials were allowing in few Venezuelans with high-level government backgrounds. Jiménez maintained his connection to his native country, traveling from Miami to Caracas 10 times between December 2014 and July 2018, according to Venezuelan passport records. 

Rimas to Riches

“I’m from a place called Carolina, Puerto Rico,” Assad said to the audience of about 400 at the Billboard Power 100 event. Assad’s hometown, just outside of San Juan, is known as “Tierra de Gigantes” (Land of Giants), for 7-foot-11-inch resident Don Felipe Birriel González and for baseball star Roberto Clemente, the first Latin player named to the Hall of Fame.

By 2013, Assad was living in a small apartment in Carolina while organizing parties and booking performers in Colombia and other Latin American countries. By that time, he had already been managing future reggaetoón star Ozuna. Soon after, Assad created a YouTube business, striking the first direct partnership in Puerto Rico with the platform to more easily monetize content, says Mauricio Ojeda, YouTube’s manager of label partnerships, U.S. Latin. He says he first met Assad in San Juan in early 2014 — before Rimas existed — and decided to partner with him because of his connections to the underground Latin urban scene on the island. At the time, major labels and important markets like Mexico were not optimistic about the future of reggaetón and Latin trap music, and Ojeda says he was looking to recruit a partner in Puerto Rico, where the scene was heating up.

Noah Assad

Jo-Ann Toro

“We spoke for hours, we hung out in Puerto Rico, he introduced me around,” says Ojeda, who says he also met Jiménez during that period. “[Assad] said he was going to come out with a ‘road map and a plan’ for becoming a YouTube partner,” says the YouTube executive.

YouTube signed a deal with Rimas in February 2015, Ojeda says, for a partnership that involved sharing revenue from video ads and other monetization features like channel memberships and merch sales. “This was providing the artists the opportunity to export their content and reach their audiences, during a time when nobody was really paying attention to them,” Ojeda says.

In 2016, with the YouTube partnership and Jiménez’s financing in place at Rimas, Puerto Rican rapper Eladio Carrión, an early Rimas signing, introduced Assad to Martínez, a then college student calling himself Bad Bunny, who was appearing at a Ponce show with Carrión. At the time, Bad Bunny was earning money for school by working as a bagger at the Econo supermarket near his home in Vega Baja. Martínez dropped out of the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo, where he was studying audiovisual communication, and switched to a sound engineering program at the College of Cinematography, Arts and Television. (He chose his stage name after posting a picture of himself as a child wearing a bunny suit and a dour expression, then created a Twitter handle.) 

After Bad Bunny uploaded some of his early music on SoundCloud, Assad in April 2016 signed him to the 360 deal with Rimas, collaborating on some early tracks with DJ Luian’s label Hear This Music.

Eventually, as Assad’s differences with Jiménez became increasingly apparent, Assad began seeking better opportunities for himself and his team, says a source close to Rimas. Days before Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017, Assad met with manager Scooter Braun, whom he’d long admired, about a potential deal in which Braun would provide investment, making Jiménez aware of their discussions, according to multiple sources. The deal got close to the finish line but didn’t come to fruition. 

Econo market in Vega Baja where Bad Bunny worked before Rimas signed him.

Econo market in Vega Baja where Bad Bunny worked before Rimas signed him.

Alexei Barrionuevo

By mid-2020, with Bad Bunny’s success accelerating, Rimas had moved into newer offices in San Juan’s Miramar neighborhood on the top floor of a small office building. That November, Assad branched out, forming his own management agency, Habibi, which signed Karol G. The industry took notice: Even before Sony Music started negotiating a deal to help Assad buy out his majority partner, other companies were sniffing around Rimas, including HYBE, which has prioritized adding Latin companies to its portfolio. 

This month, Bad Bunny and Rimas made history yet again when the Puerto Rican star performed at Coachella as the first Spanish-language headliner. The next night, Karol G, whose fourth studio album, Mañana Será Bonito (Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful) debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in March, performed on Saturday Night Live.  

Behind the scenes, Sony and Rimas continue to work on the deal that could give both Assad and Jiménez — two driven hustlers from different generations and different worlds — keys to their futures. Assad would get the freedom to pursue his mogul dreams without an investor pulling at the purse strings, while Jiménez is expected to pocket what Billboard estimates could be more than $200 million for his stakes in the recording and publishing businesses he formed less than a decade ago.

Additional Reporting By Marcos David Valverde and Ed Christman

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