Colombian corruption watchdog charged in U.S. for money laundering

(Reuters) - A top Colombian anti-corruption official and an attorney have been arrested on U.S. charges that they conspired to launder money in connection with a bribery scheme, U.S. prosecutors announced on Tuesday.

Luis Gustavo Moreno Rivera, the national director of anti-corruption in Colombia, and Leonardo Luis Pinilla Gomez, an attorney practicing in the South American country, were charged in a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Miami.

Both men were arrested in Colombia, federal prosecutors said. Attorneys for Moreno, 35, and Pinilla, 31, could not be immediately identified.

According to a criminal complaint, the case stemmed from a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration probe that involved a former governor for Colombia’s Cordoba region who became a government informant.

The complaint did not name him but said the Miami Herald on Monday had published an article about him.

That matched the description of Alejandro Lyons Muskus, a former Colombian provincial governor, who faces corruption-related charges in Columbia. He could not be reached for comment.

The complaint said the ex-governor is in plea talks with Colombia’s attorney general in a corruption-related probe.

In November, Pinilla approached the ex-governor with a message from Moreno indicating he was willing to try to obstruct the probe against him in exchange for a fee, the complaint said.

In early 2017, Moreno in an effort to entice a bribe disclosed that three people were given immunity to testify against the ex-governor, the complaint said.

Pinilla later contacted the ex-governor on Moreno’s behalf and asked for 100 million Colombian pesos (about $34,500) in exchange for copies of sworn statements taken from cooperators who testified against him, prosecutors said.

The ex-governor traveled to Miami in April, where he has remained. He then contacted the Colombian attorney general and the DEA about Moreno and Pinilla, authorities said.

In June, the ex-governor met with both men in Miami and recorded conversations with them, during which they discussed how Moreno could inundate his prosecutors with work to impede their focus on the probe, the complaint said.

At the DEA’s direction, the ex-governor provided Moreno and Pinilla a $10,000 bribe deposit, the complaint said.

Prosecutors said they also wanted 400 million in Colombian pesos with an additional $30,000 to be paid before Moreno left the United States.

Prosecutors said several $100 bills from the $10,000 were found on Moreno and his family as they boarded a flight to Bogota.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Additional reporting by Eric Walsh in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler