Federal government steps up Miami money laundering prosecutions

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MIAMI – After a slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic, federal authorities in South Florida are stepping up their crackdown on foreign corruption in the Venezuelan government and the embezzlement of hundreds of millions of dollars into the U.S. banking system.

The latest target: Colombian businessman Alvaro Pulido Vargas, who has been indicted in two massive money laundering conspiracy cases accusing him of bribing senior Venezuelan officials in exchange for billions of dollars in money laundering contracts. provision of food, medicine and housing that was supposed to help the country’s poor, according to federal prosecutors in Miami.

Pulido, 57, was indicted Thursday as the main accused in an indictment of corruption abroad involving Venezuela’s food and medicine program. Pulido, along with other defendants in his case, are believed to be living in Colombia or Venezuela. He did not appear in Miami federal court to face the new conspiracy charge.

Pulido is also co-accused with Colombian businessman Alex Saab in a separate 2019 indictment accusing them of paying bribes to Venezuelan officials to secure contracts to supply inflated buildings. for social housing projects. Saab, 49, who was arrested last year in Cape Verde off the African coast while traveling to Iran on a humanitarian mission to Venezuela, was extradited to Miami over the weekend. last end. Saab is close to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who has launched a campaign to block his lawsuits in the United States.

Pulido and Saab, along with others – including Maduro’s three step-sons – were hit in 2019 by Treasury Department sanctions over food and drug supply contracts. But Pulido is the only one of the two Colombian businessmen to be indicted in the parallel criminal case. The case, unveiled this week in federal court in Miami, centers around a Venezuelan state-owned food and drug distribution program, the Comite Local de Abastecimiento y Produccion (CLAP).

“The corruption network that runs the CLAP program has allowed Maduro and his family members to rob the Venezuelan people,” former Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said in 2019. “They use food as a form of control social, to reward political supporters and punish opponents, while pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars through a number of fraudulent schemes. “

Two years later, Pulido is charged with four other defendants in the food and medical corruption case, including Jose Gregorio Vielma-Mora, the former governor of the Venezuelan state of Tachira, accused of accepting bribes. -vin, and Pulido’s son, Emmanuel Enrique Rubio Gonzalez, who worked with his father to secure the contracts and launder the proceeds, according to the indictment.

Pulido led a “network” of businessmen and companies who won contracts with several Venezuelan government agencies to import $ 1.6 billion worth of boxes of food and medicine by paying bribes to senior officials, including Vielma-Mora, according to the indictment filed by Assistant US Attorney Kurt. Lunkenheimer.

“The defendants and their co-conspirators knowingly inflated the costs of contracts to pay bribes and get rich unjustly,” the US prosecutor’s office said in a press release.

The crux of the money laundering case: Co-conspirators working for Pulido in South Florida moved funds in and out of the South Florida banking system to “promote the bribery scheme,” says the press release.

Pulido and his co-conspirators, some anonymous in the indictment, are accused of transferring around $ 180 million through the US banking system to pay government bribes and line their pockets.

The five defendants, including Pulido, are on the run over the food and medical corruption case. No defense attorney is listed for them on the role of the Federal Court.

Pulido is the latest suspect to be charged in a string of corruption and money laundering cases filed in the United States since 2017 that accuse dozens of current and former Venezuelan officials, businessmen and lawyers for stealing billions of dollars from the Venezuelan government and its state-owned oil company, PDVSA.

– By Jay Weaver, Miami Herald


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