HOUSTON, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Two Venezuelan businessmen who live in the United States were recently arrested on charges of bribing officials of Venezuela's government-owned PDVSA oil company in a scheme worth more than $1 billion.
Roberto Rincón-Fernandez and Abraham Shiera were arrested Wednesday, court documents released Monday indicate. Rincón, 55, and Shiera, 52, were charged with wire fraud, conspiring to launder money and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits American businesses or individuals from bribing government officials in other countries to obtain business.
Rincón was held without bail because there is a "serious risk" that he will flee and because he "has significant assets which could fund a fugitive lifestyle."
The court document states that Rincón has lived in the Houston area for about 10 years and owns a home worth $5 million, also owning homes in Spain and Aruba.
"The indictment charges that Rincón and his co-defendant set up several schemes to obtain contracts with Petroleos de Venezuela S.A," Rincón's arrest order read. "In all schemes, bribes were paid to PDVSA officials to get Rincón-affiliated companies on the short list of companies which were entitled to bid for PDVSA contracts. On some occasions, only Rincón-affiliated companies made the short list."
The document says Rincón concealed the control he had over the companies so PDVSA officials were not aware all contract bidders were under Rincón's control.
"Rincón also bribed individuals to put non-competitors on the short list of bidder. In other words, Rincón's company would be the only company on the list which could supply a particular product," the court document adds.
In the investigation, 730 bank accounts were reviewed -- 108 of those related to Rincón, his family and his companies. The indictment seeks forfeiture of three Swiss bank accounts which received $100 million. U.S. investigators were prevented from tracing outgoing funds due to Swiss banking laws.
The document also mentions Rincón's relationship with retired Venezuelan Gen. Hugo Carvajal, who is wanted in the United States on charges of drug trafficking.
"From 2009 through 2014, over $1 billion was traced to this conspiracy," the document reads. "Of that amount, $750,000 was traced to Rincón between 2010 and 2013. Rincón paid bribes in the amount of $2.5 million to one official alone."