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Justice Dept. charges Villalobos, de Leon, Isturiz, Reiter, Rincon with bribery and money laundering

The U.S. Justice Department unsealed some charges yesterday related to a money laundering and bribery scheme involving some of the usual suspects exposed in this website:

"Five Former Venezuelan Government Officials Charged in Money Laundering Scheme Involving Foreign Bribery"

"Charges were unsealed today against five former Venezuelan government officials for their alleged participation in an international money laundering scheme involving bribes made to corruptly secure energy contracts from Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA).  Two of the five defendants are also charged with conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas and Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Houston made the announcement.

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 in the Southern District of Texas on Aug. 23, 2017.  Cesar Rincon was extradited from Spain on Feb. 9, and made his initial appearance today before U.S. Magistrate Judge MJ Stephen Smith of the Southern District of Texas.  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."

The indicment is here.

It's a welcome step in the right direction, which comes in the back of previous indicments / charges made against Roberto Rincón and partner Abraham Shiera. But there's much more to be done still, and one can only hope that U.S. authorities, now that they seem eager to bring Venezuelan criminals to justice, will keep pulling information from the ones already indicted.

Villalobos, for instance, was instrumental in a number of bribery payments and money laudering schemes. From memory:

- Villalobos was key in getting contracts totalling $2+ billion for Derwick Associates -through bribe payments to Javier Alvarado Ochoa at CORPOELEC and Rafael Ramirez and co at PDVSA;

- Villalobos was at the core of the $4 billion syphoned out of PDVSA through a "line of credit" approved at the highest levels, read Asdrubal Chavez, Eulogio del Pino (arrested in Venezuela) and Victor Aular, in which Luis Oberto and brother Ignacio, Juan Andres Wallis, Danilo Diazgranados, and some very prominent Venezuelan "bankers" are involved;

- Villalobos also features prominently in the Banca Privada D'Andorra scandal, which involves Diego Salazar, Rafael Ramirez's first cousin, and the Chinese Fund, PDVSA Insurance, PDVSA's Eudomario Carruyo, etc.;

- Villalobos took part with Raul Gorrin and Gustavo Perdomo in some rather creative "foreign exchange mechanisms" organised, through bribe payments, at the highest levels of Venezuela's Treasury, read Alejandro Andrade, Claudia Diaz...

Conservatively speaking, Villalobos may be in possession of information related to corruption scandals exceeding $10 billion USD. That's about as much as Venezuela's current reserves.

But then, Justice Department also charged Luis Carlos de Leon, who also signed contracts with Alejandro Betancourt and Pedro Trebbau from Derwick Associates, in his capacity as head legal counsel of CORPOELEC. So there's evidence of arrangements between the facilitator (Villalobos), the contractor (Derwick), and the government official (de Leon), working together in a completely separate scheme from the one related to yesterday's announcement.

And what about Alejandro Isturiz Chiesa, on the run, according to Justice Department's authorities? Isturiz "gained" his position in BARIVEN thanks to Javier Alvarado Ochoa, head of CORPOELEC whose son, Javier Alvarado Pardi, went to school with Derwick's Pedro Trebbau and with Isturiz. There's also documentary evidence linking Javier Alvarado Ochoa and Derwick's Alejandro Betancourt.

Alvarado Ochoa is part of a money laundering probe in Andorra, where Villlalobos is also named. Sources have informed this site that Alvarado Ochoa is preparing a move to Austria, from his current base in Madrid. Spain's Attorney General's Office is reportedly investigating Rafael Ramirez, Reiter and Alvarado Ochoa among others.

In a separate probe in Switzerland, Gazprombank, partner of Derwick Associates in energy concerns in Venezuela, was recently sanctioned by financial authorities due to "serious shortcomings in anti-money laundering processes".

Evidence tying high PDVSA officials (Rafael Ramirez, Eulogio del Pino, Victor Aular, Alvaro Ledo, Abraham Ortega and Renny Bolivar), with Villalobos, Luis Oberto, Derwick Associates, Gorrin and most of the names mentioned above has been leaked. Investigative journalists in Venezuela, Switzerland and the U.S. are working on the story.

The biggest corruption scandal the world has never heard of however, is Rafael Ramirez's tenure in PDVSA: $1.246 trillion worth of income gone up in smoke.