GIR | Judge hears details of “staggering” billion-dollar Venezuela bribery scheme

Kelly Swanson | Global Investigations Review

Judge hears details of “staggering” billion-dollar Venezuela bribery scheme | iStock

In the sentencings of two defendants in a Venezuelan bribery scheme, a federal court in West Palm Beach heard of the “staggering” amount of money involved.

Alejandro Andrade Cedeño, the former national treasurer of Venezuela, and Gabriel Arturo Jiménez Aray, the former owner of Banco Peravia in the Dominican Republic, were sentenced in late November to 10 and three years in prison, respectively.

According to prosecutors, from 2007 to 2011 Andrade accepted over $1 billion in bribes during his time as national treasurer to further a currency exchange scam. In return for the bribes, Andrade selected individuals to carry out the exchange process at favourable rates for themselves, allowing them to receive substantial profits that they later laundered through the purchase of luxury items and real estate in Florida. Several of these purchases were later given to Andrade.

Jiménez assisted the scheme by knowingly allowing these bribe payments to go through a bank that he partially owned, prosecutors said.

Raúl Gorrín Belisario, the owner of a major Venezuelan television network, has also been charged in relation to the scheme. Prosecutors detail in Gorrín’s indictment how the media mogul allegedly paid officials including Andrade from bank accounts in Switzerland (including his personal account at HSBC) to accounts in the US. Gorrín has not publicly commented on the charges.

Both Andrade and Jiménez pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and will be cooperating with prosecutors in the case against Gorrín, court documents show. Gorrín, owner of Globovisión network and the insurance firm Seguros La Vitalicia, was declared a fugitive by a federal judge in September, according to court documents.

On 27 November at Andrade’s sentencing hearing, his counsel stressed that although he was promised $1 billion dollars in bribes, he never actually had control of the money. The money was held in accounts by other co-conspirators according to counsel to Andrade, Curtis Miner at Colson Hicks Eidson.

“He was told by co-conspirators that they had the amounts out there, but that is a much different thing – we don’t want there to be an impression that Mr Andrade had that sort of money,” Miner said, according to a transcript of proceedings.

The government shot back against the defence’s claim: “They were holding it for him because he could not hold it himself or he would be caught,” said trial attorney Vanessa Snyder of the US Department of Justice’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act unit. “They paid for things for Mr Andrade out of the money they owed to him: homes, yachts, private jets, championship horses, high end watches.”

Snyder went on to describe Andrade as a “cog in the wheel” that caused the people of Venezuela to suffer “economic devastation.”

“He could have rejected the bribe money and made decisions based on merit,” Snyder said. “He could have helped fight corruption in his country; insead he contributed to the problem. Frankly, the amount of money he agreed to receive in bribes is staggering.”

The government said Andrade should receive a 10-year sentence for his crimes. “Anything less than the 10 years would not be appropriate under these circumstances to serve as punishment and a deterrent effect,” Snyder argued.

The government’s proposed sentence was significantly lower than the over-16-year sentence Andrade faced under the sentencing guidelines. US District Judge Robin Rosenberg also hinted to the potential for a reduction to Andrade’s sentence based on future cooperation.

A few days later on 29 November, at Jiménez’s sentencing the defence stressed how different the former bank owner’s case is to Andrade even though they were both charged with same crime.

“Andrade lived the fanciest of life-styles…That is not Mr Jiménez,” said counsel to Jiménez, Marissel Descalzo at Tache Bronis Christianson and Descalzo. “Mr Jiménez is destitute now, he drives for Lyft in order to support his son and is living in a friend’s basement.”

Descalzo compared the amount Jiménez gained from the scheme, $38 million, to the $1 billion Andrade was promised. “It is approximately three percent of the one billion dollars, so Mr Jiménez’s sentenced should be three percent of Andrade’s, not the same.”

Ultimately, Jiménez was sentenced to three years in prison – 30% of what Andrade received.

Bron: Global Investigations Review

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