A former executive director at the Venezuelan state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), pleaded guilty today for his role in a billion-dollar international scheme to launder funds embezzled from PDVSA.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan of the Southern District of Florida and Special Agent in Charge Mark Selby of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Miami Field Office made the announcement.
Abraham Edgardo Ortega, 51, a Venezuelan national, who was PDVSA’s executive director of financial planning, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 9, 2019 by U.S. District Judge Kathleen M. Williams of the Southern District of Florida, who accepted his plea today.
As part of his plea, Ortega admitted that in his position with PDVSA, he accepted $5 million in bribes to give priority loan status to a French company and a Russian bank, which were both minority shareholders in joint ventures with PDVSA. Ortega was paid for this bribery scheme with the proceeds of a currency exchange scheme, through which $1.2 billion was embezzled, through bribery and fraud from PDVSA. Ortega also admitted that in his position with PDVSA, he accepted $12 million in bribes for his participation in a PDVSA embezzlement scheme involving a loan and foreign-exchange contract.
Ortega admitted that he worked with a co-defendant to launder $12 million that he received as bribe payments. Ortega admitted that he and his co-defendant laundered $12 million through a sophisticated false-investment scheme that received money from a payment made to look like an investment into a fund, but, in fact, the payment was actually laundered out of the fund. Surrounding and supporting this false-investment laundering scheme were complicit money managers, brokerage firms, banks and real estate investment firms in the United States and elsewhere, operating as a network of professional money launderers, Ortega admitted.
Ortega’s co-conspirators indicted on Aug. 16 include former PDVSA officials, professional third-party money launderers and members of the Venezuelan elite, sometimes known as “boliburgués.”
An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
This case is the result of ongoing efforts by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force’s (OCDETF) “Operation Money Flight,” a partnership among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The OCDETF mission is to identify, investigate and prosecute high-level members of drug trafficking enterprises, bringing together the combined expertise and unique abilities of federal, state and local law enforcement.
HSI Miami, HSI London, HSI Rome and HSI Madrid investigated this case. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant Chief David Johnson and Trial Attorney Gwendolyn A. Stamper of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael B. Nadler of the Southern District of Florida’s Economic and Environmental Crimes Section. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nalina Sombuntham of the Southern District of Florida is handling the asset forfeiture aspects of the case.
The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided substantial assistance in this matter. The National Crime Agency of the United Kingdom and Italian, Spanish and Maltese law enforcement authorities also provided assistance.