Venezuelans in U.S. Linked to $1 Billion in PDVSA Bribes

Updated on
  • Roberto Rincon allegedly used hotels, liquor to win business
  • Rincon said to be `close'to drug trafficking ex-general

The U.S. accused two men of taking part in a $1 billion bribery scheme to secure contracts with Venezuela’s state oil company and linked one of the duo to a former head of Venezuelan military intelligence wanted for alleged cocaine trafficking.

Roberto Rincon-Fernandez, a Venezuelan national, was ordered held without bail on charges of conspiring to launder money and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in connection with Petroleos de Venezuela SA, according to an order signed Dec. 19 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy K. Johnson citing an indictment.

Abraham Jose Shiera-Bastidas, a Venezuelan living in Florida, was jailed in Miami on the same charges. The bribes included monetary gifts, travel, hotel reservations, meals, liquor, car rental, a yacht, a $14,000 stay at the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach, and other gifts to obtain “business on behalf of Rincon’s and Shiera’s companies,” according to the joint indictment filed in Miami.

In her order to keep Rincon behind bars, Johnson said he “has significant assets which could fund a fugitive life-style” and there’s a “serious risk” he could flee.

Rincon, with homes in Aruba and Spain, has a “close personal friendship” with retired Venezuelan General Hugo Carvajal, who was arrested in Aruba on Rincon’s private aircraft and later released, according to the order. Carvajal is wanted in the U.S. for drug trafficking and Aruba has declined to extradite him, according to Johnson’s order.

108 Bank Accounts

Rincon, who holds a tourist visa, has been living in the Houston area for about 10 years, owns a $5 million house, and has 108 bank accounts, the magistrate wrote. About $750 million was traced to Rincon between 2010 and 2013, according to Johnson’s order.

Rincon “has the means to flee anywhere and support himself for the rest of his life,” Johnson wrote.

In all the alleged schemes, bribes were paid to PDVSA officials to get Rincon-affiliated companies on a short list entitled to bid for contracts, and in some cases, he concealed his control of the companies so that PDVSA officials weren’t aware that all bidders were under his control, according to court papers.

The men’s companies were not named and investigators referred to them using letters of the alphabet.

Gary Siller, a lawyer for Rincon, didn’t immediately return voice and e-mail messages seeking comment. A spokesman for PDVSA declined to comment.

The case is U.S. v. Rincon-Fernandez, 15-cr-654, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Houston).