Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is under investigation as part of a U.S. probe into a massive scheme for allegedly pilfering over $1 billion from the state-owned oil company, PDVSA, the Miami Herald has learned.
Though Maduro is not mentioned by name in the criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, there are references to him as “Venezuelan Official 2” and to his stepsons, according to multiple sources familiar with the probe.
Also unnamed in court documents is a Maltese private investment firm that allegedly laundered the ill-gotten proceeds. The criminal complaint shows that the Maltese firm received upwards of €20 million for laundering the money, €511 million in all, at a four per cent service charge.
The criminal complaint shows how records obtained from email search warrants confirm the flow of the funds “from PDVSA to the defendants and other conspirators through European Financial Institution 1” (the Maltese institution).
The National Crime Agency of the United Kingdom and Italian, Spanish and Maltese law enforcement authorities provided assistance in the investigation.
Maduro has not been charged in the criminal complaint filed in Miami federal court but sources familiar with the investigation told the Herald that he and other government officials and associates — including his three stepsons — are being investigated for links to a network that has plundered the national oil company.
Maduro became president after Hugo Chávez’s death in 2013.
Jose Vincente Amparan Croquer was described in the affidavit as “a professional money launderer” associated with a Spanish property investment firm acts as a money laundering front, as well as a Maltese private investment firm, which he uses to launder money.
The federal probe, called Operation Money Flight, was launched with the initial focus on the defendants’ efforts to launder a portion of the $78 million. That investigation uncovered the broader money laundering
The alleged money-laundering conspiracy began in December 2014 with a currency-exchange scheme to embezzle $600 million from PDVSA obtained through bribes and fraud, the complaint says. The defendants used an associate, who would later become a confidential source for the feds, to launder a portion of the PDVSA funds. By May of 2015, the conspiracy had doubled to $1.2 billion embezzled from Venezuela’s national oil company.
The eight defendants named in the complaint are accused of embezzling funds from Venezuela’s vast oil income and exploiting its foreign-currency exchange system: the defendants used their access to the Venezuelan government’s foreign-currency exchange system, which offers a far more favourable rate than the everyday market, to convert bolivars to dollars and euros for overseas investments in Florida, Europe and other parts of the world.