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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.
On October 30, 2018, a Texas businessman, Ivan Alexis Guedez, who was a former procurement officer for PDVSA, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder the bribe payments he and his co-conspirators at PDVSA received for directing PDVSA business to a Miami-based supplier. The scheme involved false invoices, false e-mail addresses, and shell companies with a Swiss bank account.
For prior coverage of PDVSA actions, please see 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.
DOJ unseals charges against former Venezuelan government officials for money laundering and FCPA violations in Petroleos scheme
On February 12, the DOJ unsealed charges against five former Venezuelan government officials for their involvement in a money laundering scheme at Venezuela’s state-owned energy company Petroleos de Venezuela (Petroleos). The five defendants—Luis Carlos De Leon Perez (De Leon), Nervis Gerardo Villalobos Cardenas (Villalobos), Cesar David Rincon Godoy (Cesar Rincon), Alejandro Isturiz-Chiesa, and Rafael Ernesto Reiter Munozare (Reiter)—are each charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering. De Leon and Villalobos are also charged with conspiracy to violate the FCPA.
De Leon, Villalobos, Cesar Rincon, and Reiter were arrested in Spain in October 2017 on arrest warrants based on an indictment filed in the Southern District of Texas last August. Cesar Rincon has been extradited from Spain, while the others are pending extradition.
The indictment alleges that the five defendants possessed significant influence within Petroleos, which permitted them to solicit PDVSA vendors for “bribes and kickbacks in exchange for providing assistance to those vendors in connection with their PDVSA business.” The Petroleos vendors included residents of the U.S. and vendors who owned U.S.-based businesses. According to the indictment, two Petroleos vendors, Roberto Enrique Rincon Fernandez and Jose Shiera-Bastidas, transferred more than $27 million to accounts in Switzerland that were connected to De Leon and Villalobos. Rincon and Shiera previously pleaded guilty in the Southern District of Texas to FCPA charges related to the bribery of Petroleos officials.
The charges are part of an ongoing investigation by the DOJ and ICE-HSI into bribery at Petroleos, which has resulted in charges against fifteen individuals, ten of whom have pleaded guilty. Previous FCPA Scorecard coverage of the Petroleos investigation can be found here.
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