A Venezuelan businessman charged in Miami with laundering millions of dollars from oil contracts was gunned down Tuesday by a motorcycle assassin in Venezuela, according to authorities.
Leonardo Santilli died from several gunshot wounds in what police described as a possible professional hit, authorities said.
According to press reports, the businessman was inside his Toyota 4Runner SUV in a parking lot outside a pharmacy in the seaside city of Lecherias — east of Caracas — when his assailant approached the vehicle on a motorcycle around 5 p.m.
Witnesses said the assailant fired as many as eight times at Santilli before leaving on the motorcycle, according to those reports and an Instagram video. People at the scene tried to aid the businessman and took him in his own vehicle to a hospital before he died.
Miami lawyer Wifredo Ferrer, former U.S. attorney in South Florida, was representing Santilli in his money-laundering case. “We are truly saddened and shocked by this tragic event,” Ferrer said. “Our thoughts and prayers remain with Leo’s family during this very difficult time.”
In March, Santilli was charged in Miami with playing a central role as a broker in a nearly $150 million money-laundering scheme involving inflated oil contracts with the Venezuelan government under President Nicolás Maduro. Five subsidiaries of the state-owned oil company, PDVSA, sent the money to his two South Florida businesses to buy equipment and other supplies for them in 2014-2017, according to a criminal complaint.
Santilli spent about one-third of that money on actual goods for the PDVSA subsidiaries and then diverted the rest through South Florida bank accounts to himself, his family members, Venezuelan government officials and national oil company executives, according to the criminal complaint.
Over the past four years, federal prosecutors Michael Nadler and Michael Berger have charged more than a dozen Venezuelan businessmen and government officials with stealing billions of dollars from PDVSA through inflated contracts, sham loans and currency-exchange schemes. Several businessmen, including Santilli, have been charged with setting up companies and bank accounts in Miami to steer millions in bribes to state oil company executives and others.
According to the criminal complaint, prosecutors obtained warrants from a federal magistrate judge to freeze 17 bank accounts controlled by Santilli and his two companies in the Miami area. The total take: nearly $45 million.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment about Santilli’s death, but it is expected to seize his bank assets in Miami and continue the investigation into the PDVSA subsidiaries in Venezuela.