UPDATE 1-U.S. charges a 4th person in Venezuelan bank kickback case

Wed Jun 12, 2013 5:37pm EDT

* U.S. charges a managing partner of Direct Access

* Three other individuals were charged in May

* Scheme allegedly created $60 mln in fees for Direct Access

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK, June 12 (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors on Wednesday arrested a managing partner at broker-dealer Direct Access Partners and charged him with participating in a scheme to pay bribes to a Venezuelan bank official, bringing to four the number of individuals criminally charged in the case.

Ernesto Lujan, 50, was charged in connection with a conspiracy to pay bribes to Maria De Los Angeles Gonzalez De Hernandez, a senior official in Venezuela's state economic development bank.

The U.S. Attorneys office for Manhattan said the scheme generated more than $60 million in fees for Direct Access Partners through business directed by Gonzalez, who prosecutors said received more than $5 million in kickback payments.

U.S. prosecutors in May had announced charges against Gonzalez and two employees of New York-based Direct Access Partners, Tomas Alberto Clarke Bethancourt and Jose Alejandro Hurtado.

"The huge bribes Mr. Lujan and others allegedly paid funneled millions to his firm and into his own pockets," the U.S. acting assistant attorney general, Mythili Raman, said in a statement.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which brought a related civil lawsuit in May, said on Wednesday it also expanded its complaint to add charges against Lujan.

Alfred Pavlis, a lawyer for Lujan, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Lujan was the former head of the Miami office of Direct Access, the SEC said.

According to the criminal complaint, Lujan participated in the bribery scheme with Clarke and Hurtado, from December 2008 through October 2010.

The complaint said Lujan, Clarke and Hurtado directed a portion of the money that Direct Access earned on fees for trade executions in Venezuelan sovereign bonds for the state-owned bank, Caracas-based Banco de Desarrollo Económico y Social de Venezuela, known as Bandes.

Some kickbacks were hidden through corporate entities and offshore accounts that Gonzalez held in Switzerland, the complaint said.

The complaint said one of Lujan's previously charged co-conspirators, who was not identified, is now providing information in hopes of entering a cooperation agreement with the government.

Lujan was arrested Wednesday morning in Wellington, Florida, and presented in a federal court in West Palm Beach. The charges against him include conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The cases in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, are U.S. v. Lujan, No. 13-1501; and SEC v. Bethancourt, No. 13-3074.

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