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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.
On January 3, 2018, Petrobras announced that it has agreed to pay $2.95 billion to resolve the securities class action pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York regarding the company’s well-known corruption scandal in Brazil. The class action claimed that investors were harmed by alleged corruption when contractors overcharged Petrobras and kicked back some of the overcharges through bribes to Petrobras officials. Under the proposed settlement, Petrobras has agreed to pay the funds in three installments. The agreement does not constitute any admission of wrongdoing or misconduct by Petrobras and Petrobras claims that this reflects its status as a victim of the acts uncovered in Operation Car Wash, as the corruption investigation in Brazil is known. The settlement agreement is still subject to approval by the District Court.
Past ScoreCard coverage related to the Petrobras corruption allegations and investigation can be found here.
Florida Energy Company Owner Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Violate the FCPA in Venezuelan Bribery Scheme
On October 11, the DOJ announced that Fernando Ardila Rued – a co-owner of several Florida-based energy companies – pleaded guilty to FCPA charges that he conspired to bribe foreign officials in exchange for obtaining contracts from Venezuela’s state-owned energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA). In his plea, Ardila admitted to conspiring with two other individuals – Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas and Roberto Enrique Rincon Fernandez – from 2008 through 2014 to bribe PDVSA purchasing analysts through cash payments and other entertainment in order to win contracts for Shiera and Rincon’s companies. Ardila is the tenth individual who has pleaded guilty in connection with the PDVSA scheme.
This investigation has been a collaboration between the DOJ, ICE-HSI, and IRS-Criminal Investigation Division. Previous FCPA Scorecard coverage of the PDVSA investigation can be found here.
On October 4, the Department of Justice expanded the scope of its indictment against retired U.S. Army colonel Joseph Baptiste. On August 29, Baptiste was charged with conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act after he allegedly solicited bribes from undercover agents who posed as potential investors for infrastructure projects in Haiti. The expanded charges include conspiracy to launder money and violate the Federal Travel Act. Prior FCPA Scorecard coverage of the initial indictment and the related FCPA sting operation can be found here.
On June 15, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York announced that Jorge Luis Arzuaga, a citizen of Argentina and a former managing director of the Swiss Bank Julius Baer, pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy charges. His guilty plea came in connection with allegations that he facilitated the payment of more than $25 million in bribes to soccer officials by opening and managing bank accounts for those officials. In exchange for his assistance in facilitating these bribes, Arzuaga received over $1 million in bonus payments from other co-conspirators, an amount he agreed to forfeit in connection with his plea.
The guilty plea came as part of the U.S. government’s investigation into corruption in international soccer which has been ongoing since May 2015. Previous FCPA Scorecard coverage of the FIFA investigation can be found here.
Bloomberg reports that Wal-Mart is nearing a resolution of a five-year old joint inquiry by the DOJ and SEC. Citing an unnamed source familiar with the matter, Bloomberg reports that the company is preparing to pay $300 million to settle allegations that company employees paid bribes in Mexico, China, and India. The same source reported that the resolution will also include at least one guilty plea by a Wal-Mart subsidiary, a non-prosecution agreement for the parent company, and a monitorship.
In March of 2015, a federal district court in Arkansas dismissed with prejudice a consolidated shareholder derivative suit accusing Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s (Wal-Mart) board of directors of concealing Mexican bribery claims from investors. The lawsuit was filed after a 2012 article by the New York Times reported that top officials at Wal-Mart’s Mexican subsidiary oversaw millions of dollars in bribes in connection with the company’s expansion in Mexico. See previous Scorecard coverage here. The same article is believed to have touched off the DOJ’s and SEC’s inquiry. If true, a $300 million resolution would not be near the top end of FCPA resolutions.
On January 10, it was announced that two additional defendants, Juan Jose Hernandez Comerma and Charles Quintard Beech III, owners of Florida and Texas-based energy companies, had pleaded guilty to foreign bribery charges related to a scheme to corruptly secure energy contracts from Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A.
According to admissions by Hernandez and Beech, they conspired with other previously charged defendants from 2008 through 2012 to pay bribes and other things of value, including recreational travel, meals, and entertainment to Petroleos officials to obtain energy contracts or receive payment for previously awarded contracts. Some of the bribes were paid to a Petroleos official’s relative to conceal the nature, source, and ownership of the bribe.
In total, eight individuals have now pleaded guilty in cases related to the government’s investigation into bribery at Petroleos. The government’s investigation is ongoing. Previous FCPA Scorecard coverage on the Petroleos investigations can be found here.
On December 22, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. announced an agreement with the SEC and DOJ to resolve FCPA violations stemming from conduct in Ukraine, Mexico, and Russia, with a $519 million settlement and a deferred prosecution agreement. Teva will pay more than $236 million in disgorgement and interest to the SEC, the second largest FCPA-related corporate disgorgement to date. As part of its agreement with the DOJ, Teva will pay a $283 million criminal fine and enter into a three-year deferred prosecution agreement under the supervision of an independent compliance monitor.
Gabonese National Pleads Guilty to Bribing Government Officials in Africa in Connection with Och-Ziff Mining Operations
On December 9, 2016, the son of a former Prime Minister of Gabon pleaded guilty to conspiring to make corrupt payments to government officials in Africa in violation of the FCPA. The Gabonese national worked as a consultant for a joint venture between mining company Och-Ziff Capital Management Group LLC (Och-Ziff) and an entity incorporated in the Turks and Caicos. The DOJ charged him with conspiring to pay approximately $3 million in bribes to high-level government officials in Niger, as well as providing them with luxury cars, in order to obtain uranium mining concessions. Similarly, the DOJ also charged him with bribing a high-ranking government official in Chad with luxury foreign travel for the official and his wife in order to obtain a uranium mining concession there. In addition, the DOJ charged him with bribing government officials in Guinea with cash, the use of private jets, and a luxury car in order to obtain confidential government information.
The guilty plea comes on the heels of Och-Ziff’s $412 million settlement with the DOJ and SEC to resolve related criminal and civil charges of violating the FCPA in connection with the bribery of high-level government officials across Africa. The settlement represented the fourth largest FCPA financial penalty at the time. Och-Ziff’s CEO and former CFO have also previously settled related civil allegations. Prior Scorecard coverage of Och-Ziff’s settlement with the DOJ and SEC may be found here.
On November 22, the U.S. government filed a superseding indictment against a Macau real estate developer and his assistant in connection with their alleged involvement in an international bribery scheme. The superseding indictment included new charges that both men violated the FCPA in connection with alleged payments to then-UN ambassadors from Antigua and the Dominican Republic in exchange for official actions to benefit the defendants’ real estate company. The bribery charges contained in the original October 2015 indictment concerned only domestic bribery charges brought under 18 U.S.C. § 666, and not the FCPA.
It is not clear why the U.S. government chose to add the FCPA charges now as opposed to bringing them in the original indictment. First, there did not appear to be any FCPA jurisdictional hurdles in the original indictment. Moreover, one of the alleged bribe recipients named in both the original indictment and superseding indictment – the then-UN ambassador from Antigua – is and always was a “foreign official” under the FCPA. The UN has been designated a public international organization, and individuals associated with these organizations are “foreign officials” under the FCPA.