Five former government officers were charged with money laundering involving bribes made to illegally secure contracts with Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company, according to officials.
The indictment alleges that the five defendants, all of whom were then-current officials of the state-energy company, Petroleos Venezuela S.A., and its subsidiaries or former officials of other Venezuelan government agencies or instrumentalities, were known as the “management team” and wielded significant influence within Petroleos Venezuela.
Two of the five defendants are also charged with conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act or FCPA.
Four of the defendants, Luis Carlos De Leon Perez (De Leon), 41; Nervis Gerardo Villalobos Cardenas (Villalobos), 50; Cesar David Rincon Godoy (Cesar Rincon), 50; and Rafael Ernesto Reiter Munoz (Reiter), 39, were arrested in Spain in October 2017 by Spanish authorities on arrest warrants based on a 20-count indictment returned from Texas on Aug. 23, 2017.
Cesar Rincon was extradited from Spain on Feb. 9, and made his initial appearance Monday in federal court.
De Leon, Villalobos and Reiter remain in Spanish custody pending extradition.
A fifth defendant, Alejandro Isturiz Chiesa (Isturiz), 33, remains at large. All five defendants are citizens of Venezuela; De Leon is also a U.S. citizen.
De Leon, Villalobos, Reiter and Isturiz are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Cesar Rincon is charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Each of the defendants is charged with one or more counts of money laundering, as follows: De Leon, Cesar Rincon and Reiter, four counts each; Villalobos, one count; and Isturiz, five counts.
De Leon and Villalobos are also each charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA.
“Corruption threatens economic and political stability, and victimizes ordinary law-abiding people by diverting public funds into the pockets of corrupt officials and bribe payers,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan. “The charges announced today demonstrate our commitment to fighting corruption at its source and to prosecuting those who allegedly launder their illicit gains through American financial institutions and real estate. Through cases like this, we are sending a strong message to corrupt foreign officials: if you launder your ill-gotten gains through the United States, you will be prosecuted.”
According to the indictment, the management team conspired with each other and others to solicit several Petroleos Venezuela vendors, including vendors who were residents of the United States, and who owned and controlled businesses incorporated and based in the United States, for bribes and kickbacks in exchange for providing assistance to those vendors in connection with their Petroleos Venezuela business.
The indictment further alleges that the co-conspirators then laundered the proceeds of the bribery scheme through a series of complex international financial transactions, including to, from or through bank accounts in the United States, and, in some instances, laundered the bribe proceeds in the form of real estate transactions and other investments in the United States.
According to the indictment, two PDVSA vendors, Roberto Enrique Rincon Fernandez (Roberto Rincon), 57, of The Woodlands, Texas, and Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas (Shiera), 54, of Coral Gables, Florida, sent over $27 million in bribe payments to an account in Switzerland for which De Leon was a beneficial owner and De Leon and Villalobos were authorized to sign.
The indictment alleges that those funds were later transferred to other accounts in Switzerland.
Both Roberto Rincon and Shiera previously plead guilty in Texas to FCPA charges in connection with a scheme to bribe Petroleos Venezuela officials.
During their guilty pleas, Roberto Rincon and Shiera admitted that they paid bribes and provided other things of value to Petroleos Venezuela officials to ensure that their companies were placed on Petroleos Venezuela bidding panels and ensure that they were given payment priority so that they would get paid ahead of other Petroleos Venezuela vendors with invoices.
Roberto Rincon and Shiera are currently awaiting sentencing.
The defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
With the unsealing of the indictment today, the Justice Department has announced charges against 15 individuals, 10 of whom have plead guilty, as part of a larger, ongoing investigation by the U.S. government into bribery at Petroleos Venezuela.
HSI in Houston is conducting the ongoing investigation with assistance from HSI in Boston and Madrid, as well as from Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation.