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DOJ Announces Additional Venezuelan Bribery Schemes – Yet No FCPA Charges

This mid-2021 post [1] highlighted the noticeable trend of the DOJ specifically alleging that an individual violated the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, yet not charging the individual with FCPA anti-bribery violations, but rather money laundering violations.

Last week, the DOJ returned to this playbook [2] as it announced the unsealing of an indictment charging three Colombian nationals and two Venezuelan nationals for their alleged roles in laundering the proceeds of contracts to provide food and medicine to Venezuela that were obtained through bribes.

As stated in the DOJ release:

“Alvaro Pulido Vargas, aka German Enrique Rubio Salas, aka Cuchi, 57, of Colombia; Jose Gregorio Vielma-Mora, 55, of Venezuela; Emmanuel Enrique Rubio Gonzalez, 32, of Colombia; Carlos Rolando Lizcano Manrique, 50, of Colombia; and Ana Guillermo Luis, 49, of Venezuela, were charged in an indictment for their alleged roles in laundering the proceeds of a bribery scheme to obtain and retain inflated contracts through the Comité Local de Abastecimiento y Producción (CLAP), a Venezuelan state-owned and state-controlled food and medicine distribution program for the people of Venezuela.

The indictment alleges that beginning in or around July 2015 and continuing until at least 2020, Pulido, Vielma-Mora, Rubio, Lizcano, and Guillermo conspired with others to launder the proceeds of an illegal bribery scheme from bank accounts located in Antigua, United Arab Emirates, and elsewhere to and through bank accounts in the United States. According to the indictment, Pulido, Vielma-Mora, Rubio, Lizcano, and Guillermo and others obtained contracts with Venezuelan governmental entities to import and distribute boxes of food and medicine in Venezuela through CLAP by paying bribes to Venezuelan government officials, including Vielma-Mora. The defendants and their co-conspirators knowingly inflated the costs of the contracts to pay the bribes and unjustly enrich themselves. The indictment also alleges that co-conspirators directed funds to be transferred to promote the bribery scheme while in the United States, and wired money related to the scheme to bank accounts in the Southern District of Florida. As a result of the scheme, Pulido, Vielma-Mora, Rubio, Lizcano, Guillermo, and their co-conspirators allegedly received approximately $1.6 billion from the Republic of Venezuela, and transferred approximately $180 million through or to the United States.”

According to the indictment, a felony violation of the FCPA was a specific unlawful activity relevant to the money laundering offenses and the indictment alleges:

“It was the purpose of the conspiracy for the defendants and their co-conspirators to unlawfully enrich themselves by engaging in a scheme to bribe Venezuelan officials to obtain and retain contracts and other business advantages, including obtaining multi-million dollar food and medicine contracts with entities and instrumentalities owned and controlled by the Venezuelan government for the importation and delivery of food and medicine to the people of Venezuela, and to launder bribes, proceeds, and other funds related to the corrupt scheme into and through accounts in the United States in order to promote the illegal bribery scheme and to conceal the nature and purpose of the proceeds of the illegal bribery scheme.”

According to the indictment, between 2012 – 2017 Vielma-Mora was the Governor of the Venezuelan State of Tachira and oversaw the contracting process related to the importation of food into Venezuela for distribution to the people of the State of Tachira as part of the CLAP program.

[3]

According to the indictment, the companies involved in the improper conduct included Group Grand Limited and Asasi Food.

The unsealing of the above charges occurred during the same week as the DOJ announced [4] that Alex Nain Saab Moran (a Colombian citizen) was extradited to the U.S. In July 2019, Saab (along with Alvaro Pulido Vargas) were charged with laundering the proceeds of violations of the FCPA in connection with a scheme to pay bribes to take advantage of Venezuela’s government controlled-exchange rate.

According to the DOJ release:

“The indictment alleges that beginning in or around November 2011 and continuing until at least September 2015, Saab and Pulido conspired with others to launder the proceeds of an illegal bribery scheme from bank accounts located in Venezuela to and through bank accounts located in the United States. According to the indictment, Saab and Pulido obtained a contract with the Venezuelan government in November 2011 to build low-income housing units. The defendants and their co-conspirators then took advantage of Venezuela’s government-controlled exchange rate, under which U.S. dollars could be obtained at a favorable rate, by submitting false and fraudulent import documents for goods and materials that were never imported into Venezuela and bribing Venezuelan government officials to approve those documents. The indictment alleges that the unlawful activity was a bribery scheme that violated the FCPA and involved bribery offenses against Venezuela. It also alleges that meetings in furtherance of the bribe payments occurred in Miami and that Saab and Pulido wired money related to the scheme to bank accounts in the Southern District of Florida. As a result of the scheme, Saab and Pulido transferred approximately $350 million out of Venezuela, through the United States, to overseas accounts they owned or controlled.”

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