July 16, 2018 / 8:47 PM / 2 months ago

UPDATE 2-Venezuela pleads guilty in U.S. to role in PDVSA bribe scheme

(Adds details on case)

By Nate Raymond

July 16 (Reuters) - A former official at a Venezuelan state-run electric company pleaded guilty on Monday to U.S. charges that he participated in a scheme to solicit bribes in exchange for helping vendors win favorable treatment from state oil company PDVSA.

Luis Carlos De Leon Perez, 42, pleaded guilty in federal court in Houston to conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and to conspiring to commit money laundering, the U.S. Justice Department said.

He became the 12th person to plead guilty as part of a larger investigation by the Justice Department into bribery at Petroleos de Venezuela SA that became public with the arrest of two Venezuelan businessmen in December 2015.

The two men were Roberto Rincon, who was president of Tradequip Services & Marine, and Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas, the manager of Vertix Instrumentos. Both pleaded guilty in 2016 to conspiring to pay bribes to secure energy contracts.

De Leon is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 24. His lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

De Leon was arrested in October 2017 in Spain and was extradited to the United States after being indicted along with four other former Venezuelan officials on charges they solicited bribes to help vendors win favorable treatment from PDVSA.

An indictment said that from 2011 to 2013 the five Venezuelans sought bribes and kickbacks from vendors to help them secure PDVSA contracts and gain priority over other vendors for outstanding invoices during its liquidity crisis.

Prosecutors said De Leon was among a group of PDVSA officials and people outside the company with influence at it who solicited bribes from Rincon and Shiera. De Leon worked with those men to then launder the bribe money, prosecutors said.

De Leon also sought bribes from the owners of other energy companies and directed some of that money to PDVSA officials in order help those businesses out, prosecutors said.

Among the people indicted with De Leon was Cesar David Rincon Godoy, a former general manager at PDVSA’s procurement unit Bariven. He pleaded guilty in April to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Others charged included Nervis Villalobos, a former Venezuelan vice minister of energy; Rafael Reiter, who worked as PDVSA’s head of security and loss prevention; and Alejandro Isturiz Chiesa, who was an assistant to Bariven’s president.

Villalobos and Reiter were, like De Leon, arrested in Spain, where they remain pending extradition, the Justice Department said. Isturiz remains at large. (Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler)

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