March 23, 2020 / 8:01 PM / 10 days ago

U.S. prosecutors charge PDVSA contractor with money laundering

(Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors have charged a Venezuelan oilfield contractor with money laundering for bribing officials at state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela to win overpriced contracts, and then seeking to hide the proceeds in the United States.

The charges are the latest in a U.S. investigation of corruption at PDVSA, a once prolific company whose crude output has plunged in recent years due to mismanagement and pilfering of funds, contributing to Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis.

In a complaint filed on Friday, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of Florida said Leonardo Santilli received nearly $150 million from PDVSA-controlled joint ventures with foreign companies in the Orinoco belt between 2014 and 2017 for contracts to supply equipment.

Reuters could not immediately reach Santilli for comment, and no defense attorney was listed for him in court records. PDVSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The complaint said that in at least three instances, the joint ventures paid Santilli four to five times the market prices for the goods he provided, citing bank records.

Prosecutors also detailed millions of dollars in bribes Santilli allegedly paid to officials at the joint ventures to win the contracts, citing emails, bank records, and interviews with confidential witnesses, including some PDVSA officials who acknowledged receiving bribes.

Santilli sought to launder the proceeds through Florida bank accounts, and authorities in 2018 seized some $44.7 million of his funds, prosecutors said.

Reporting by Luc Cohen; editing by Grant McCool

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