U.S. prosecutors charge former Citgo executive in bribery probe

HOUSTON (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors charged a former Citgo Petroleum manager with accepting $2.5 million as part of a scheme by outside businessmen to corruptly secure contracts with the U.S. refiner and its Venezuelan parent through bribes.

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Jose Luis De Jongh Atencio, 48, was indicted by a federal grand jury last month with money-laundering and conspiracy charges, according to an indictment unsealed on Thursday. De Jong is the 27th person charged in a U.S. investigation of bribery at Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement.

The government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has describe the U.S. investigation as politically motivated.

De Jongh received cash and tickets to sporting events and concerts under a scheme that lasted through last year. He used some of the proceeds to purchase real property in Texas, according to the Justice Department.

An attorney for De Jongh could not be immediately reached for comment.

Citgo declined to comment other than to confirm De Jongh was an employee between September, 2010, and February 2018.

De Jongh directed payments from businessmen including Miami business owner Jose Manuel Gonzalez Testino to be made to bank accounts in the names of shell companies in Panama and Switzerland.

Gonzalez has pled guilty to bribery charges and faces sentencing in a Texas court next month.

Gonzalez admitted he and co-conspirators paid at least four Citgo officials and provided gifts to a senior Citgo executive for help winning energy and logistics contracts.

Of the 27 people charged as part of the government’s investigation of PDVSA, 20 have pleaded guilty, the Justice Department said.

Reporting by Gary McWilliams; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Tom Brown