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Two charged with money laundering in a $1.2 billion Venezuelan fraud case

#charged #money #laundering #billion #Venezuelan #fraud #case

A Swiss man and an Argentine man were charged in Miami on Tuesday for helping launder part of $1.2 billion taken from Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA in a long-running corruption and bribery probe.

Ralph Steinmann, 48, and Luis Fernando Vuteff, 51, both former top officials at Switzerland-based wealth management firm Aquila Swissinvest, have been accused of helping Venezuelan officials and other co-conspirators siphon funds from PDVSA between 2014 and 2018.

The charges filed in federal court said the two were hired to launder a large portion of funds stolen from the oil company in a bribery-backed currency exchange scheme.

“Steinmann, Vuteff and others allegedly discussed and agreed to create the sophisticated financial mechanisms and relationships needed to launder more than $200 million related to the program,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

They also helped “open accounts for or on behalf of at least two Venezuelan officials to receive their bribe payments related to the program.”

The indictments said the two were fully aware of the corruption of the funds and helped set up accounts to move the money and invest it in financial and real estate investments.

The conspiracy began in December 2014 with a currency exchange scheme aimed at embezzling around $600 million from PDVSA through bribery and fraud.

The culprits maximized their profits by taking advantage of the Venezuelan government’s foreign currency exchange system’s favorable rates and converting bolivars into dollars, and by May 2015 the conspiracy’s value had reportedly doubled, according to court records.

Steinmann and Vuteff have each been charged with a single charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering and face up to 20 years in prison.

In 2018, US prosecutors charged several people who were at the center of the PDVSA fraud.

Matthias Krull, a former executive at Swiss bank Julius Baer, ​​pleaded guilty to money laundering and received a 10-year prison sentence.

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