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Venezuela's PDVSA rejects $1B bribery link, condemns corruption

By Andrew V. Pestano
Venezuela's PDVSA rejects $1B bribery link, condemns corruption
Venezuela's government-owned PDVSA oil company has denounced an "international smear campaign" after two men connected to the oil giant were charged in a $1 billion bribery scheme. One PDVSA official allegedly received $2.5 million in bribes. Photo courtesy of Petróleos de Venezuela S.A.

CARACAS, Venezuela, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Venezuela's government-owned PDVSA oil company has denounced an "international smear campaign" after two men connected to the oil giant were charged in a $1 billion bribery scheme.

Roberto Rincón-Fernandez, 55, and Abraham Shiera, 52, were arrested last week and 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.

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On Wednesday, PDVSA -- known as Petróleos de Venezuela S.A., or Petroleum of Venezuela -- rejected accusations of involvement while also condemning corruption.

"PDVSA is under attack by an international smear campaign by some communications media in which it is linked with the commission of alleged wrongful acts committed by Venezuelan citizens and businesses," PDVSA said in a statement. "In this regard, PDVSA condemns any kind of illegal practice as well as any conduct that may lead to the practice of corruption by companies related to PDVSA and officials who work in it."

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In the U.S. government 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.

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"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," court documents read.

More than $1 billion was traced to the alleged conspiracy from 2009 and 2014. One PDVSA official allegedly received $2.5 million in bribes. 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."

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"PDVSA confirms that all its procurement processes are attached to the laws of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and is continuously improving its procurement policies and procedures and control to ensure the highest level of transparency a national authorities, so as to safeguard fully the interests of the Venezuelan people," PDVSA said.

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In the bribery scheme, court documents allege Rincón concealed the control he had over the companies so PDVSA officials were not aware all contract bidders were under Rincón's control.

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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.

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