Two contractors plead guilty in Venezuelan Oil Giant FCPA Fraud

Two U.S. contractors pleaded guilty to charges of bribing officials of a Venezuelan state oil company in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The two executives have been recently arrested by the Department of Justice as part of a long-term probe of the South American oil corporation Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA). The investigation began in 2015 after several officials of the oil company were suspected of laundering billions through fraudulent schemes and kickbacks. Later on, however, the authorities found several U.S.-based businessmen actively conspired to pay bribes to foreign government officials and committed wire fraud. Judge Gray Miller in Houston recently heard the two defendants and set their sentencing for July 14, 2017.

Charles Quintard Beech III, of Katy, Texas, and Juan Jose Hernandez Comerma, of Weston, Florida, both pleaded guilty of one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA. In addition, the latter one, who co-owns a company based in Florida where he worked as general manager, admitted his responsibility in one count of violating the Act. Beech paid multiple bribes from 2011 to 2012 in order to get his companies paid for PDSVA contracts that were already paid, and put them on bidding panels.

Hernandez shared his ownership of the company with Roberto Enrique Rincon Fernandez and Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas. All the three businessmen conspired to pay PDSVA officials to convince them to award several contracts to their company. In exchange, the officials received bribes in the form of a percentage of the contract received, as well as other kickbacks such as luxurious entertainment and leisure travels. Shiera and Rincon admitted they conspired to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, committed wire fraud and made false statements back in March and June 2016. Rincon was one of the Venezuelan company’s most prominent contractors, supplying the company with over $500 million in equipment every year. One of the former employees of Shiera’s business, Moises Abraham Millan Escobar also pleaded guilty of one count of bribery.

Among the Venezuelan oil firm’s employees who received unlawful payments as part of the fraudulent scheme, Alfonzo Eliezer Gravina Munoz pleaded guilty in December 2015 to making false statements on his U.S. federal income tax return and to conspiracy to money laundering. Together with Gravina, two other former employees also admitted they actively conspired to commit similar crimes: Christian Javier Maldonado Barillas and Jose Luis Ramos Castillo, both from Katy Texas.

Article written by: Dr. Claudio Butticè, Pharm.D.