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U.S. charges 2 bankers in sprawling $1.2B Venezuela laundering conspiracy

July 13 (UPI) -- Federal prosecutors have charged two financial asset managers with aiding in the laundering of $1.2 billion embezzled from Venezuela's state-owned and controlled energy company.

The Justice Department announced in a statement that an indictment was returned Tuesday in the Southern District of Florida, charging Ralph Steinmann, 48, of Switzerland, and Luis Fernando Vuteff, 51, of Argentina, with one count each of money laundering.

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Prosecutors said the pair conspired with others to launder the ill-gotten proceeds taken from Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. through the U.S. financial system via international bank accounts from December 2014 to at least August 2018.

"Steinmann, Vuteff and others allegedly discussed and agreed to create the sophisticated financial mechanisms and relationships required to launder more than $200 million related to the scheme as well as open accounts for or on behalf of at least two Venezuelan public officials to receive their bribe payments related to the scheme," the Justice Department said.

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The charging document states the money they were laundering was from a foreign currency exchange scheme that involved the bribery of Venezuelan officials.

In 2018, the Justice Department charged several others involved in the currency exchange scheme that was concocted to embezzle $1.2 billion from PDVSA that was obtained through bribery and fraud.

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In October of that year, Matthias Krull, a former managing director and vice chairman of a Swiss bank, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to his role in the scheme.

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According to federal prosecutors, Krull, a German national, admitted that the conspiracy started in December 2014 and that he and co-conspirators used Miami, Fla., real estate and false-investment schemes in an effort to launder the money that came from PDVSA.

If convicted, Steinmann and Vuteff each face up to 20 years' imprisonment.

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