3 PDVSA officials pleaded guilty in the US

Three officials at Venezuela's state-run oil company pled guilty in the US for their roles in a kickback scheme reportedly worth an estimated $1 billion, underscoring the scope of corruption in the country and the failures of authorities to confront it. 

Court documents unsealed March 22 detail a scheme in which two businessmen paid three former Petroleum of Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) officials to ensure that their companies "were placed on PDVSA bidding panels, which enabled the companies to win lucrative energy contracts," according to a US Department of Justice (DOJ) press release. The New York Times reported the scheme was worth $1 billion.

The documents were made public after Florida resident Abraham José Shiera Bastidas pled guilty to three charges, including violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The three former PDVSA officials, José Luís Ramos Castillo, Christian Javier Maldonado Barillas and Alfonzo Eliézer Gravina Muñoz, all pled guilty in December 2015 to conspiracy to commit money laundering.

In their pleas, the PDVSA officials testified that Shiera Bastidas and his counterpart Roberto Enríque Rincón Fernández, of Texas, gave them bribes and other favors. The documents show that Shiera and Rincon also helped the PDVSA officials launder the money. At least one of the officials had money deposited into a bank account in Panama.

According to the Department of Justice, the charges against Rincón Fernández are still pending.

The Swiss government has also agreed to assist the US government in its investigation. In a statement, Switzerland's Federal Office of Justice said it would provide information to US authorities from at least 18 banks that have done business with PDVSA, Reuters reported.

InSight Crime Analysis

The kickback and bribery scheme sheds further light on corruption within PDVSA. Last March, US Department of the Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) accused PDVSA officials of laundering $2 billion through the Andorran bank Banca Privada d'Andorra (BPA). An opposition politician recently said corruption at the state-run oil company has cost the Venezuelan people $10 billion.

SEE ALSO: Venezuela News and Profiles

Despite the suspected widespread corruption at PDVSA, few officials have been charged or investigated by Venezuelan authorities. Venezuela's inaction contrasts sharply with the vigorous investigations into corruption at Brazil's state-run oil giant Petrobras. 

The investigations, known as "Operation Car Wash," have implicated numerous political elites and Petrobras officials, including billionaire businessman Marcelo Odebrecht, who was sentenced earlier this month to 19 years in prison. Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was recently detained, and current president Dilma Rousseff is facing increasing pressure to resign over her alleged links to the scandal. 

Although the scandal has ignited social unrest in Brazil, it is arguably a sign of the independence and strength of the country's judicial system -- something that is lacking in Venezuela

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Olfato. It is a term used quite often in law enforcement and judicial circles in Central America (and other parts of the world as well). It refers to the sixth sense they have as they see a crime scene, investigate a murder or plow through the paperwork...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...