(Reuters) - Venezuela’s former national treasurer admitted receiving over $1 billion in bribes as part of illicit foreign currency operations that involved a local television mogul now indicted in U.S. courts, according to U.S. court documents unsealed on Tuesday.
Alejandro Andrade, who ran the treasury for four years under late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, received properties, platinum and gold Rolex watches and Mercedes Benz vehicles thanks to the scheme, the documents from the Southern District of Florida say.
He did so with the help of conspirators including Raul Gorrin, owner of television station Globovision, who has been charged with paying bribes to Andrade and others as well as helping to launder the payments, according to documents unsealed this week.
The cases are part of a broad effort by U.S. federal prosecutors to crack down on the use of the U.S. financial system to launder proceeds from rampant corruption in the crisis-stricken country that is suffering from hyperinflation.
President Nicolas Maduro has said little about criminal proceedings against former Venezuelan officials, but says the United States is seeking to undermine his government through financial sanctions.
The Venezuelan Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Both Andrade, who was treasurer from 2007 to 2011, and Gorrin made vast sums taking advantage of Venezuela’s exchange controls, according to the documents.
U.S. prosecutors also announced a guilty plea by Gabriel Jimenez, a Venezuelan citizen who admitted to conspiring with Gorrin and others to acquire Dominican Republic-based Banco Peravia and use it to help launder bribe money.
Reuters was unable to obtain comment from Andrade or Jimenez. Gorrin’s defense attorney, Howard Srebnick, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Since 2003, the exchange control system has sold heavily subsidized dollars through state currency agencies or government auctions. But dollars on the black market have fetched at least double and sometimes 10 times more, allowing the well-connected to buy cut-rate dollars and resell them at a huge profit.
Andrade received bribes from brokerages to sell dollar-denominated bonds on behalf of the government, the documents say.
The brokerages kept part of the proceeds and returned kickbacks to him by buying him items including 17 horses, 35 luxury watches, 12 cars and six South Florida homes, according to a list of the property he agreed to relinquish to U.S. authorities.
He also handed over nine bank accounts in the United States and Switzerland, the documents say.
Andrade in late 2017 agreed to plead guilty to one count of violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and this month agreed to hand over the assets, according to the documents, which were under seal until Tuesday.
Gorrin, who also owns insurance firm Seguros La Vitalicia, was charged in an indictment unsealed on Monday with violating U.S. anti-corruption laws in efforts to win contracts to carry out currency exchange operations for the government.
Between 2008 and 2017, Gorrin facilitated more than $150 million in bribe payments to officials in Venezuela’s treasury for access to currency deals, with funds wired from Swiss bank accounts to accounts in Florida, U.S. prosecutors said.
A U.S. Department of Justice press release on Tuesday said that Gorrin paid bribes to Andrade.
Neither Globovision nor La Vitalicia responded to requests for comment. Gorrin’s whereabouts were not immediately clear. He faces a maximum penalty of 45 years in prison if found guilty.
Gorrin allegedly also bought jets, yachts, “champion horses” and luxury watches in Florida and Texas for a government official as a bribe, according to the indictment.
A biography on Gorrin’s personal website describes him as a salsa-loving lawyer and businessman. He bought a 25 percent stake in an insurer that would later be known as La Vitalicia in 2008, 10 years after Chavez came to power.
Globovision, once a virulently anti-government station, overhauled coverage and softened criticism of Chavez's successor, Nicolas Maduro, after Gorrin purchased the channel in 2013, reporters said at the time. (reut.rs/2Ag9lMv)
Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Luc Cohen in Caracas; additional reporting by Mayela Armas in Caracas; editing by Bernadette Baum and Phil Berlowitz