Federal charges were unsealed Monday against five former Venezuelan government officials for their alleged role in an international money laundering effort involving bribes to secure energy contracts from Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A.
It is part of a larger, ongoing investigation by the U.S. government into bribery at PDVSA that has, to date, brought charges against 15 individuals.
The five indicted Monday, including former officials of PDVSA and the Venezuelan government were known as the “management team” and wielded significant influence within the Venezuelan energy company, according to the indictment.
The team members conspired with one another and others to solicit PDVSA vendors for bribes and kickbacks, the U.S. government charged. Then they laundered the proceeds through a series of complex international financial transactions, using U.S. bank accounts, real estate deals and other U.S. investments, according to the U.S. Justice Department, which announced the indictment.
Four of the defendants were arrested in Spain in October by Spanish authorities. Those defendants included Luis Carlos De Leon Perez, Nervis Gerardo Villalobos Cardenas, Cesar David Rincon Godoy and Rafael Ernesto Reiter Munoz. The 20-count indictment was returned in Houston in August.
Cesar Rincon was extradited from Spain on Friday and made his initial appearance Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Smith in Houston. De Leon, Villalobos and Reiter remain in Spanish custody pending extradition.
A fifth defendant – Alejandro Isturiz Chiesa remains at large. All five are Venezuela citizens. De Leon is also a U.S. citizen.
The indictment alleges that two PDVSA vendors —Roberto Enrique Rincon Fernandez of The Woodlands, and Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas of Coral Gables, FL, —sent more than $27 million in bribe payments to an account in Switzerland for which De Leon was an owner. The money was later transferred to other Swiss accounts.
Both Roberto Rincon and Shiera previously pleaded guilty to federal foreign corrupt charges in connection with a scheme to bribe PDVSA officials that included the payment of bribes and other things of value to make sure their companies were included on bidding panels. Rincon and Shiera are awaiting sentencing.
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