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PDVSA $1 billion international bribery scandal widens

Carlos Becerra/Bloomberg

Probe of Venezuelan Bribery Scheme Widens With Latest Charges

- Former head of PDVSA unit, two European asset managers charged
- Indictment is part of U.S. prosecution of $1 billion scheme

By Lucia Kassai and Laurel Brubaker Calkins / Bloomberg

Petroleumworld 09 17 2019

The former president of a unit of Petroleos de Venezuela SA and two European wealth managers were charged with money laundering as a U.S. probe into a $1 billion bribery scheme expands.

The three charged are Javier Alvarado Ochoa, a Venezuelan citizen and former president of PDVSA purchasing unit Bariven, and asset managers Daisy Teresa Rafoi Bleuler, a Swiss citizen, and Paulo Jorge da Costa Casqueiro Murta, a citizen of Switzerland and Portugal, according to an indictment unsealed Friday in federal court in Houston. They were charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering as well.

The indictment expands the Justice Department's crackdown on corruption that has battered Venezuela as it goes through one of the worst economic crises in its history. U.S. prosecutors say professional launderers labored for years to conceal the movement of money stolen through bribery and fraud from PDVSA, the nation's main source of income and foreign currency. Venezuela, once one of the shining stars of Latin America and a thriving member of OPEC , faces one of the world's worst episodes of hyperinflation.

PDVSA didn't immediately return a call and email seeking comment on the charges. The federal courts' online database didn't list lawyers for Alvarado, Rafoi or Murta.

Alvarado allegedly took bribes from Venezuelan businessmen Roberto Enrique Rincon Fernandez and Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas. The two sought new contracts with PDVSA, as well as payment on outstanding bills for earlier work, and kicked back 10% of whatever they got, prosecutors say.

Proceeds of the scheme were laundered through bank accounts in Switzerland, Curacao and Dubai, according to the indictment. Some of the bribes went to pay for luxury hotel stays in Aruba and cases of steak, lobster and wines purchased through Venezuelan shops, prosecutors said.

Rincon and Shiera pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy in April 2018 and have been cooperating with prosecutors while awaiting sentencing, which has been postponed multiple times. More than 20 people have been charged in connection with the sprawling bribery and corruption scheme, which is believed to have siphoned more than $1 billion into private hands.

Wealth managers Rafoi and Murta are accused of laundering the money through numerous financial transactions that involved companies, relatives, friends, creditors and personal associates.

Story by Lucia Kassai and Laurel Brubaker Calkins from Bloomberg. / 09 16 2019


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