The Real Deal Miami

Guilty plea in $1B money laundering scheme allegedly tied to SoFla real estate

The former Venezuelan oil company executive admitted to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering
By Keith Larsen | November 01, 2018 11:35AM

(Credit: iStock)

UPDATED Nov. 1, 1:08 p.m.: A former official with Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA pleaded guilty on Wednesday for his role in a $1 billion money laundering scheme in which prosecutors allege some of the proceeds went into South Florida real estate.

Abraham Edgardo Ortega, 51, PDVSA’s former executive director of financial planning, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 9 by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams of the Southern District of Florida.

Prosecutors allege Ortega and other top Venezuelan officials engaged in a scheme to launder money out of the country’s state oil company by exploiting Venezuela’s unique currency exchange system. Some of these proceeds allegedly went into luxury real estate in South Florida including a condo in the Porsche Design Tower in Sunny Isles Beach, a condo in Related Group’s Icon Brickell and two homes in Coral Gables’ Cocoplum neighborhood.

The government alleges Venezuelan officials were able to exploit this scheme by having the state oil company lend money to offshore entities at a special government rate and then converting it back to the market rate. While Ortega was working at PDVSA, prosecutors claim he accepted $5 million in bribes to give priority loan status to a French company and a Russian bank, which were both minority shareholders in joint ventures with PDVSA.

“The government recognized the tremendous amount of knowledge and assistance that Mr. Ortega could provide in this investigation,” said his attorney, Lilly Ann Sanchez of The LS Law Firm in Miami. She added her client looked forward to resolving the matter quickly and “moving on with his life.”

Ortega is the second defendant who has pleaded guilty in the case. On Monday, Matthias Krull, a wealth manager with the Swiss bank Julius Baer Group, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in the scheme after he submitted a guilty plea in August.

As part of his plea, Krull admitted that in his position with the Swiss bank he directed clients from Venezuela to the bank, including Francisco Convit Guruceaga, who was indicted on money laundering charges on Aug. 16, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Krull’s attorney Oscar Rodriguez did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Six other defendants remain at large, according to prosecutors. Among those reportedly alleged to be connected to the scheme: the three stepsons of the country’s embattled president, Nicolás Maduro; a billionaire Venezuelan TV mogul; and former executives at PDVSA.

Prosecutors allege that a total of 16 South Florida properties are tied to the defendants.