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DOJ charges top Venezuela officials with money laundering

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Monday unsealed an indictment [text, PDF] against five Venezuelan officials for allegedly participating in an international bribery and money laundering scheme involving Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), a state-owned oil and natural gas company.

The indictment alleges [press release] that the defendants, including the deputy energy minister, were known as a "management team" that exchanged bribe payments for contracts with an anonymous official from PDVSA. The five defendants were then suspected to have created a network of banks in Switzerland and other countries to launder the payments.

Rafael Ramirez, the claimed anonymous PDVSA official, was a powerful government official and a former member of the Board of PDVSA. While Ramirez established leadership over the company from 2004-2014, $11 billion dollars were unaccounted for.

These allegations are part of the wider investigation into continued corruption in Venezuela. This scheme is thought to have been initiated under socialist president Hugo Chavez and continued through 2013.

Four of the defendants were arrested in Spain in 2017 based on the indictment returned last August. One of those arrested, Cesar Rincon, general manager of PDVSA, was extradited from Spain on February 9 and had his first appearance Monday in front of Judge Stephen Smith of the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas [official website]. Two of the defendants are also charged with violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act [text, PDF].

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