April 19, 2018 / 6:18 PM / a year ago

U.S. says ex-official at PDVSA unit pleads guilty to money laundering

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former official of a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA [PDVSA.UL] pleaded guilty on Thursday to a U.S. charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering, the U.S. Justice Department said.

FILE PHOTO: The corporate logo of the state oil company PDVSA is seen at a gas station in Caracas, Venezuela, August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares/File Photo

Cesar Rincon, a Venezuelan citizen who was extradited to the United States from Spain after his arrest there last year, pleaded guilty in federal court in Houston to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, the department said.

He was one of five former Venezuelan officials accused in February of soliciting bribes in exchange for helping vendors win favorable treatment from Petroleos de Venezuela SA.

Rincon, 50, a former general manager at PDVSA’s procurement unit Bariven, agreed to forfeit $7.03 million, and faces sentencing on July 9 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Others charged included Nervis Villalobos, a former Venezuelan vice minister of energy; Rafael Reiter, who worked as PDVSA’s head of security and loss prevention; and Luis Carlos de Leon, a former official at a state-run electric company.

Those three like Rincon were arrested in Spain in October at the request of U.S. authorities amid a foreign bribery investigation into the financially struggling PDVSA.

Also charged in the case is Alejandro Isturiz Chiesa, an assistant to Bariven’s president, who remains at large.

As part of his plea agreement, Rincon also admitted to soliciting and receiving bribes from other owners of U.S.-based energy companies in exchange for helping them win business with PDVSA.

De Leon was extradited from Spain on March 9, and was ordered to remain in custody, while Villalobos and Reiter remain in Spanish custody, the statement said.

All five were charged with money laundering, while De Leon and Villalobos were also charged with conspiring to violate the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The case flowed out of a U.S. investigation into what prosecutors have previously called a $1 billion bribery plot involving payments to PDVSA officials that became public with the arrest of two businessmen in 2015.

In an indictment announced in February said that from 2011 to 2013, the five Venezuelans sought bribes and kickbacks from vendors in exchange for helping them secure PDVSA contracts and gain priority over other vendors for outstanding invoices during its liquidity crisis.

Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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