U.S. charges Miami professor in Venezuela money laundering scheme

(Reuters) - A University of Miami professor who studied drug trafficking and organized crime in Latin America was arrested on charges he helped launder funds embezzled from Venezuela into the United States, U.S. prosecutors said on Monday.

Prosecutors in New York accused professor Bruce Bagley of receiving $2.5 million in deposits from bank accounts in Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that were the proceeds of bribery and embezzlement in Venezuela, a Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office press release said. It said he retained about 10% as a commission.

Bagley did not immediately respond to an email sent to his University of Miami address seeking comment.

In a statement, the University of Miami said Bagley had been placed on administrative leave as a result of the indictment.

The case is part of U.S. prosecutors’ efforts to crack down on the use of the U.S. financial system to launder proceeds from rampant corruption in oil-rich Venezuela, which is undergoing a hyperinflationary economic meltdown that has prompted millions to emigrate.

Bagley was a frequent media commentator about the crisis in Venezuela, and in 2015 published a book titled “Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime, and Violence in the Americas Today.” In a 2016 Univision article about the arrest of two nephews of Venezuelan First Lady Cilia Flores on drug trafficking charges, Bagley was quoted as saying, “the nephews are just the tip of the iceberg.”

The indictment of Bagley unsealed on Monday said that in 2016 he opened an account at a Florida bank for a company that listed himself and his spouse as officers and directors. In November 2017, the account began to receive funds from a UAE-based food company controlled by a Colombian.

The account did not name the Colombian person who held the overseas accounts, and did not detail how the funds were embezzled from Venezuela.

Prosecutors allege that Bagley created fake contracts to justify the transfer of funds, and that he and the Colombian had discussed the origin of the funds.

Last year, Venezuela’s former national treasurer was sentenced by a U.S. judge to 10 years in prison over allegations he received more than $1 billion in bribes. He pleaded guilty to plotting to launder the funds in the United States.

Reporting by Luc Cohen; editing by Grant McCool and Rosalba O’Brien