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On May 29, the DOJ announced that Jose Manuel Gonzalez Testino, a dual U.S.-Venezuelan citizen, pleaded guilty for his role in a bribery scheme involving Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) officials. Gonzalez pleaded guilty in the Southern District of Texas to conspiracy to violate the FCPA, violating the FCPA, and failing to report foreign bank accounts. Gonzalez’s sentencing is set for August 28.
Gonzalez controlled multiple U.S. and international companies that provided goods and services to PDVSA. According to the DOJ, Gonzalez and a co-conspirator paid at least $629,000 in bribes to a former PDVSA official in exchange for favorable business treatment for Gonzalez’s companies. Prior FCPA Scorecard coverage is available here.
In an indictment unsealed on February 26, the DOJ charged a former sales representative and the president of a U.S.-based company with conspiracy to commit bribery, wire fraud, and money laundering, and substantive wire fraud, for their alleged roles in “a scheme to corruptly secure business advantages, including contracts and payment on past due invoices, from Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA).” The indictment alleges that from approximately 2009 to 2013, the sales representative, Rafael Enrique Pinto Franceschi, and the president of the company, Franz Herman Muller Huber, conspired to bribe three PDVSA officials in exchange for providing advantages to the unnamed company, including through the creation of fictitious invoices from Panamanian shell companies.
According to the indictment, in exchange for the bribes the PDVSA officials allegedly assisted the company in obtaining additional PDVSA contracts, inside information, and payment on past due invoices. The defendants are also alleged to have received kickbacks in connection with the scheme. In total, Pinto is alleged to have received over $985,000 and Muller over $258,000 in kickback payments. Two of the three officials that the defendants are accused of bribing have pleaded guilty in connection with the case and are pending sentencing.
On December 10, a former procurement officer of Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company, pleaded guilty to one count of obstructing an investigation into bribes paid by the owner of U.S.-based companies to Venezuelan government officials in exchange for securing additional business with PDVSA and payment priority on outstanding issues. Alfonso Eliezer Gravina Munoz (Gravina), who previously worked for PDVSA in Houston, Texas, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding.
The charge stems from a guilty plea Gravina entered on December 10, 2015, to one count of conspiracy to launder money and one count of making false statements on his federal income tax return. Under the terms of a plea agreement in that case, Gravina agreed to cooperate with the investigation by being interviewed by the United States, and to providing “truthful, complete and accurate information” to government agents and attorneys. In the latest plea, though, Gravina admitted that after his earlier plea, he concealed facts about bribes paid to PDVSA by a target of the investigation, referred to as Co-Conspirator 1 in the indictment. Additionally, Gravina informed Co-Conspirator 1 that U.S. government authorities were investigating Co-Conspirator 1, and provided Co-Conspirator 1 with information about the investigation, including the topics discussed in Gravina’s meetings with the government. Consequently, Co-Conspirator 1 destroyed evidence and attempted to flee the country in July 2018. Gravina is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 19, 2019.
Two co-conspirators of billionaire news network Globovision owner Raul Gorrin Belisario were sentenced this week as part of the DOJ’s recently unsealed prosecution of a bribery scheme involving over $1 billion paid in bribes to members of the Venezuelan government. According to the DOJ, Gorrin was indicted under seal in August for conspiracy to violate the FCPA, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and nine counts of money laundering. Two co-conspirators, Florida resident and former Venezuelan National Treasurer Alejandro Andrade Cedeno, and Chicago resident and former owner of Banco Peravia Gabriel Arturo Jimenez Aray, each pleaded guilty under seal to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and were sentenced in federal court earlier this week.
According to Gorrin’s indictment, he allegedly bribed members of the Venezuelan government—including Andrade—in exchange for the right to handle the government’s foreign currency exchange transactions, and then acquired a bank in order to launder the bribe money and other illicit proceeds. To do so, Gorrin allegedly moved money from Switzerland to accounts in Florida and New York and used it to purchase luxury items such as “jets, a yacht, multiple champion horses, and numerous high-end watches.”
In December 2017, Andrade pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, admitting to taking bribes in exchange for helping his co-conspirators—including Gorrin—by choosing them to conduct currency exchanges at favorable rates to the Venezuelan government. As part of his plea, Andrade agreed to cooperate and pay a forfeiture money judgment of $1 billion through the forfeiture of “real estate, vehicles, horses, watches, aircraft, and bank accounts.” On November 27, 2018, U.S. Southern District of Florida Judge Robin L. Rosenberg sentenced Andrade to 10 years in prison, the maximum under his plea deal.
In March 2018, Chicago resident and former owner of Banco Peravia Gabriel Arturo Jimenez Aray took a similar plea deal, pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, admitting to helping Gorrin and others acquire and then launder money through Banco Peravia. On November 29, 2018, Jimenez was sentenced to 3 years in prison.
The Miami Herald has also reported that Gorrin’s personal banker is Matthias Krull, formerly of Julius Baer Panama, who was sentenced last month for his role in another money laundering scheme involving Venezuela’s Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA). Coverage of the PDVSA prosecutions is available here.
Swiss banker sentenced to 10 years related to PDVSA embezzlement and bribery scheme, and PDVSA official pleads guilty in same scheme
On October 29, Matthias Krull, a former banker at Julius Baer, was sentenced to serve 10 years in prison for his role in a scheme to launder funds embezzled from Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), the Venezuelan state-owned oil company. Krull had pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering on August 22, 2018. Krull admitted to using his position at the bank to attract clients from Venezuela. He helped some of those clients launder proceeds from a PDVSA foreign-exchange embezzlement scheme using false-investment schemes and Miami real estate. The PDVSA money was originally obtained through bribery and fraud.
Two days later, on October 31, Abraham Edgardo Ortega, the former executive director of financial planning at Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), the Venezuelan state-owned oil company, pleaded guilty to charges related to his role in the same scheme. Ortega admitted to accepting $5 million in bribes to give priority loan status to a French company and Russian bank. Ortega was paid with the proceeds of the same foreign-exchange embezzlement scheme. Ortega admitted that he ultimately received $12 million in bribes for his participation in the embezzlement scheme and laundered that money with a co-defendant through a false-investment scheme. Ortega is expected to be sentenced on January 9, 2019.
On September 13, the DOJ announced two additional guilty pleas in its wide-ranging foreign bribery investigation into payments to officials of Venezuela’s state-owned energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA). Juan Carlos Castillo Rincon (Castillo), a former manager of a Texas-based logistics and freight forwarding company, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA in connection with corruptly securing contracts, contract extensions, and favorable contract terms from PDVSA. Castillo pleaded guilty in the Southern District of Texas, as did Jose Orlando Camacho (Camacho), the PDVSA official who accepted the bribes, and whose guilty plea was also unsealed. As now revealed, in July 2017, Camacho pleaded guilty under seal to conspiracy to commit money laundering. Both Camacho and Castillo are scheduled to be sentenced in February 2019. Prior Scorecard coverage of the PDVSA matter can be viewed here.
With these guilty pleas, DOJ has now brought charges against 18 individuals as part of its investigation into bribery at PDVSA. Fourteen individuals have pleaded guilty. Due to the limits inherent in the FCPA, the DOJ’s charges against the corrupt foreign officials such as Camacho (i.e., PDVSA employees) have been based on money laundering and not FCPA (see Prior FCPA Scorecard Coverage here and here) whereas the charges against the U.S.-based individuals who made and/or directed the corrupt payments generally have included FCPA violations (see Prior FCPA Scorecard Coverage here).
On August 1, DOJ announced the arrest of Jose Manuel Gonzalez Testino, a dual U.S.-Venezuelan citizen, on foreign bribery charges for making and conspiring to make corrupt payments to an official of Venezuela’s state-owned energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA). Gonzalez was arrested at Miami International Airport on an arrest warrant based on a criminal complaint in the Southern District of Texas, which was unsealed on July 31. Gonzalez made an initial appearance before a magistrate judge in the Southern District of Florida.
According to the criminal complaint, Gonzalez and a co-conspirator paid at least $629,000 in bribes to a former PDVSA official in exchange for favorable business treatment for Gonzalez’s companies, including: (1) directing PDVSA contracts to Gonzalez’s companies, (2) giving Gonzalez’s companies priority over other vendors to receive payments, and (3) awarding Gonzalez’s companies contracts in U.S. dollars rather than Venezuelan bolivars.
DOJ has announced charges against 17 individuals, including Gonzalez, as part of its investigation into bribery at PDVSA. 12 individuals have pleaded guilty.
On July 16, 2018, Luis Carlos De Leon-Perez, a dual U.S.-Venezuelan citizen, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. De Leon’s convictions relate to allegations that he bribed officials at Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), and laundered money for bribes to other company employees. FCPA Scorecard provided earlier coverage of this case here.
De Leon admitted to soliciting and directing bribes from two U.S. citizens in exchange for securing payment priority for their companies from PDVSA and for awards of PDVSA contracts. De Leon also admitted to conspiring with these individuals to launder and conceal the proceeds of the scheme through a series of financial transactions, including wire transfers to offshore accounts. Sentencing is scheduled for September 24, 2018.
De Leon’s conviction underscores how wide investigations can become as the DOJ continues pulling threads and obtaining guilty pleas. The DOJ has charged 15 defendants in the PDVSA cases, 12 of whom have pleaded guilty to date, including De Leon. DOJ also credited the assistance of the Swiss Federal Office of Justice and the Spanish Guardia Civil.
The DOJ announced on Thursday, April 19, that a former Venezuelan official had pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. The charge arose from Cesar David Rincon Godoy’s role in a bribery scheme involving bribes paid by the owners of U.S. companies to Venezuelan government officials to secure energy contracts and payments on outstanding invoices. As the former general manager of the procurement subsidiary of the Venezuelan state-owned energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), Rincon had solicited and accepted bribes. The judge entered a personal money judgment of $7,033,504.71. As a government official receiving the bribes, Rincon could not be charged himself with FCPA offenses (which are targeted at those paying the bribes). Related charges against four other individuals remain pending, including charges of conspiracy to violate the FCPA; 11 individuals have already pleaded guilty in the PDVSA cases.
For prior coverage of the PDVSA enforcement actions, please see here.
Houston-based energy company sues former Venezuelan government officials for bribery related conduct related to Petroleos
On February 16, 2018, Harvest Natural Resources and HNR Energia B.V (collectively, “Harvest”), a Houston-based energy corporation that formally dissolved in May 2017, filed suit in the Southern District of Texas against two former presidents of Venezuela’s national oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (“PDVSA”), Rafael Dario Ramirez Carreno (“Ramirez”) and Eulogio Antonio Del Pino Diaz (“Del Pino), and others who allegedly worked for Ramirez and PDVSA. According to the complaint filed by Harvest, Venezuela’s Ministerio del Poder Popular de Petroleo y Mineria twice refused to allow Harvest to sell energy assets co-owned with PDVSA because Harvest refused to pay bribes requested by the defendants. According to Harvest, the denials forced the company to sell the same assets at a loss of $470 million. Harvest has sued the defendants alleging civil violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), the Sherman Act, the Robinson-Patman Act, and the Texas Free Enterprise and Antitrust Act.
This suit was filed days after the DOJ unsealed charges against five former Venezuelan government officials for their involvement in a money laundering scheme at PDVSA. Previous FCPA Scorecard coverage of the ongoing DOJ and ICE-HIS investigation into bribery at Petroleos can be found here.
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