Switzerland to hand Venezuela oil firm bank records to U.S.

ZURICH (Reuters) - In a widening corruption probe into Venezuela’s state oil company by U.S. authorities, Swiss regulators have agreed to provide U.S. prosecutors with records from at least 18 banks relating to the oil firm.

A worker pumps gas into a vehicle at a gas station, which belongs to Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA, in Caracas, February 12, 2016. REUTERS/Marco Bello

The requests for information from two separate U.S. authorities were part of their investigations into alleged money laundering and corruption in connection with the conclusion of energy contracts with Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), Switzerland’s Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) said on Friday.

U.S. authorities say they have traced over $1 billion to a conspiracy involving a Venezuelan magnate who allegedly paid bribes to obtain contracts from PDVSA.

They are separately investing representatives of Venezuelan energy company Derwick Associates, which has done business with PDVSA, based on the FOJ’s statements.

“Within the context of the investigation against representatives of the energy company Derwick, the Attorney for the Southern District of New York has requested on June 4, 2015 the FOJ to gather bank records,” FOJ spokesman Folco Galli said, confirming a report by Bloomberg on Thursday. “18 banks are concerned by the measures of mutual assistance.”

The FOJ had separately agreed to the U.S. Justice Department’s request for records from eight banks relating to its investigation against Roberto Rincon and others, the FOJ said. The FOJ is also complying with the Justice Department’s request that assets be frozen at one of the banks.

Rincon, president of Texas-based Tradequip Services & Marine, and another businessman were arrested in December on charges of taking part in a $1 billion conspiracy to corruptly secure energy contracts.

Rincon’s co-defendant, Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas, pleaded guilty to the charges on Tuesday, while records unsealed that same day by the court show three former PDVSA officials had pleaded guilty in December to charges related to the scheme. Rincon has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to face trial on April 25.

No Swiss banking documents had yet been handed over to U.S. authorities in either of the requests, the FOJ said.

Both the U.S. Justice Department and a spokeswoman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara declined to comment.

Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi and Nate Raymond; Editing by Mark Potter