Venezuelan Official Pleads Guilty In Bribery Scheme

A conspiracy among Venezuelan officials to solicit bribes in exchange for business from state owned firms and instrumentalities has resulted in twelve guilty pleas on corruption charges to date. The latest guilty plea in the ongoing investigation involves a former Venezuelan official who is also a U.S. citizen. U.S. v. De Leon, No. 4:17-cr-00514 (S.D. Tx.).

Luis Carlos De Leon-Perez is the most recent official to plead guilty in the investigation. Mr. De Leon was charged along with others including Nervis Villalobos, Cesar Rincon, Rafel Reiter and Alejandro Isturiz. Each defendant is a citizen of Venezuela. Generally the defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The scheme on which the charges are based took place over a two year period beginning in 2011. Each of the defendants was an official of Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. or PDVSA, the state owned and controlled energy company, one of its subsidiaries or another Venezuelan government agency or instrumentality. Collectively the defendants, known as the management team, had significant influence with PDVSA. The team solicited PDVSA vendors for bribes and kickbacks. The proceeds of the scheme were then laundered through a series of international transactions.

Mr. De Leon was arrested in Spain in October 2017 and extradited to the United States after a 20 count indictment was returned against him and others by a grand jury in the Southern District of Texas. This week Mr. De Leon pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. In connection with his guilty plea Mr. De Leon admitted to engaging in the two year long scheme. He and other officials of PDVSA solicited vendors for bribes in exchange for assistance with obtaining business, according to the admissions.

As part of the overall scheme, Mr. De Leon, according to his admissions, solicited and directed bribes from Roberto Rincon of The Woodlands, Texas and Jose Shiera Bastidas of Coral Gables, Florida for PDVSA officials. In return the two executives receive assistance with securing business that included their U.S. firms. Mr. De Leon also admitted to working with Messrs. Rincon and Shiera to launder and conceal the proceeds of the bribery scheme. A series of financial transactions were used that included wiring funds to accounts in Switzerland held in the names of other than those of the co-conspirators. At least $27 million in bribes have been paid. Defendant De Leon also admitted bribing other U.S. individuals and their firms and transmitting the funds to PDVSA officials. Mr. De Leon is awaiting sentencing.

Those who have pleaded guilty, in addition to Mr. De Leon, include Cesar Rincon, Roberto Rincon and Jose Shiera.

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