A former general counsel of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company has agreed to repay millions of euros he stashed away in a Maltese bank account to the US government after pleading guilty to a money-laundering scheme that saw him take $11.5 million in bribes, a significant amount of which was embezzled into a Maltese bank account, according to a US indictment.
A lawyer who also served as secretary of PDVSA’s board of directors, Alvaro Ledo Nass, is currently facing up to 10 years in prison at his sentencing hearing coming up in early June in a Miami federal court.
Nass is not expected to be sentenced to the maximum punishment thanks to his assistance with US federal prosecutors in the corruption case.
As part of that plea bargain deal, he is to also hand over millions of dollars in assets from bank accounts in Malta, Switzerland and Portugal to the US government.
He admitted last Wednesday to playing a key role in a $1.2 billion money-laundering conspiracy. Close to half of those funds, over €500 million, were being laundered through Malta.
It was in 2018 that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was implicated in an American investigation for having laundered hundreds of millions of euros through the Malta-based Sliema-based private wealth management firm Portmann Capital Management.
That criminal complaint alleged that Maduro’s stepsons helped launder US$1.2 billion in funds pilfered from Venezuela’s state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A., or PDVSA.
The ruse was employed through a series of fake investment schemes including fraudulent bond issues and investment funds.
The specific deposits for Maduro’s three stepsons were among 10 wire transfers amounting to around €511 million that were wired to and laundered through Malta, according to the criminal complaint.
It is believed that the firm received upwards of €20 million for laundering the money at a 4% service charge. The Malta-registered company is owned by Swiss financier Kurt Portmann and his son Yves-Alain Portmann. The Malta Financial Services Authority cancelled the company’s licence in April 2022.
US$600 million siphoned to Malta and Switzerland
In this most recent case, a factual statement signed by Nass, his lawyer and prosecutors, describes how between 2012 and 2017 he and others “engaged in various foreign exchange schemes using loan contracts with PDVSA that were unlawfully obtained via bribes and kickbacks.”
The case’s main money-laundering scheme – according to that statement, indictment and other court documents took place in late 2014 with a bogus loan to PDVSA that was repaid through the government’s bolivar-dollar exchange system.
In the process, $600 million was siphoned out of the state-owned oil company, according to an indictment and other court documents.
That money was moved offshore to bank accounts in Switzerland and Malta, according to federal prosecutors, who also say the network of co-conspirators used a partner in Miami to launder a portion of the PDVSA funds in the United States.
By 2015, the conspiracy had doubled to $1.2 billion embezzled from Venezuela’s national oil company, the indictment says. Meanwhile, the US-based associate became a key cooperating source for Homeland Security Investigations, including recording conversations in undercover meetings with some of the co-conspirators.
“He has cooperated and done what is expected of him,” Nass’ defence attorney, Oscar Rodriguez, said Thursday. So far, a dozen foreign and local defendants have been charged in the wide-ranging foreign corruption case. Five have pleaded guilty in Miami federal court.
The accused ringleader is Venezuelan Francisco Convit Guruceaga, who allegedly collaborated with other influential business people to exploit the oil-rich administrations of the late President Hugo Chavez and current President Nicolás Maduro.
The first to plead guilty was Venezuelan banker Matthias Krull, who was enlisted to transfer some of the PDVSA money stashed in European bank accounts to the United States. Krull paid US$600,000 as part of a forfeiture judgment and served only one year and three months in prison because of his substantial assistance in the government’s case.
In 2021, Abraham Edgardo Ortega, a former executive director of financial planning at PDVSA, was sentenced to two years and four months after he admitted accepting more than $12 million in bribes that were secretly wired to financial institutions in the US and elsewhere.
Ortega also cooperated with prosecutors. Ortega, who served as PDVSA’s top financial officer from 2014 to 2016, admitted that he conspired with the alleged leader of the money-laundering ring.
SOS – Malta is sinking.
The clear connection between Venezuela and Iran via the infamous Pilatus Bank (with BOV as its correspondent bank) will lead to very serious problems and heavy fines against the bank thanks to Mafia Leader Joseph Muscat and his mob of criminals.
This is the result of what one reaps
Who were the Auditors, Company Services Providers, and the bankers of Portmann Capital Management in Malta?
I cannot understand this, one goes to the bank and for an insignificant sum we are interrogated. Then with one click on the PC or Mobile one can see that their account has been cleaned out of all the cash after a min., . How is this ? It happened to someone I know and the bank only gave her a small insignificant some back. Why is that where is the bank’s responsibility towards the client?. Can no one be trusted at all now ? Is this the progress we boast about .? The kings do what they like they set rules and do not abide by them themselves They deal in billions and no proper checks, but the ordinary people are given hell or cheated. Shameful situation which is harming us all.