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Ex-top Venezuelan official, husband and mogul charged in new Miami laundering case

Judge's gavel in a courtroom, stack of law books. (wp paarz/Flickr)
December 20, 2020

A former Venezuelan national treasurer and her husband were indicted by a Miami federal grand jury Tuesday on charges of accepting millions in bribes from a billionaire businessman who paid them through U.S. bank accounts so he could make a fortune off the Venezuelan government’s lucrative currency exchange system.

Former Venezuelan treasurer Claudia Patricia Díaz Guillén, a former naval officer, and her husband, Adrián Velásquez Figueroa, a former presidential security guard, were charged with accepting the bribes from Raul Gorrín, who has had close relationships with Venezuela’s socialist presidents over the past decade.

Gorrín, 52, who owns a TV station in Venezuela along with now-frozen luxury properties in Miami and New York, is considered a fugitive after being indicted two years ago as the mastermind of the bribery conspiracy during the presidency of the late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013. Gorrín continued to wield his influence during the presidency of Chávez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro.

“ln total, [Gorrín] paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to secure the rights to engage in over $1 billion in foreign currency exchange transactions that resulted in profits to [him] of hundreds of millions of dollars,” the new indictment says. To secure “this improper advantage” Gorrín used both personal and corporate bank accounts “to wire bribe payments” to Miami for Díaz and her husband as well as her predecessor as Venezuela’s national treasurer, the indictment says.

Both Díaz, 47, a former nurse for Chávez who served as national treasurer between 2011 and 2013, and her husband, Velásquez, 41, are living in Spain and are expected to face extradition to the United States. The court docket for their foreign corruption and money- laundering conspiracy case does not list defense attorneys for them.

Gorrín’s attorney, Howard Srebnick, said he only became aware of the new indictment from a Miami Herald reporter on Wednesday and was not prepared to comment.

The couple, along with Gorrín, are among more than a dozen former Venezuelan government officials, business people and associates who have been charged with money laundering in Miami stemming from a series of foreign corruption probes led by Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The alleged embezzlement of billions has contributed to the former oil-rich nation’s economic collapse, leading to a widespread lack of food, housing and medicine, along with an exodus of millions of Venezuelans.

Díaz succeeded Alejandro Andrade as Venezuela’s treasurer. Andrade, who had once been Chávez’s bodyguard, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in 2018 after cooperating with U.S. authorities and secretly providing evidence on her, her husband, Gorrín, and a Venezuelan banker who operated a bank in the Dominican Republic to steer some of the bribery payments to the group, according to indictment and other court records.

Andrade, 56, admitted in a plea deal that he had bought an equestrian estate in Palm Beach County along with a stable of show-jumping horses as well as a fleet of exotic cars with the bribery payments from Gorrín. The former national treasurer, who served in the Venezuelan government between 2007 and 2010, turned over $300 million in bank accounts and other assets to the U.S. government.

The forfeiture judgment against Andrade totaled $1 billion, but that amount is based on what he was expected to receive from Gorrín for facilitating their alleged currency-exchange racket through the Venezuelan government.

Gorrín paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to Andrade both before and after his tenure as national treasurer because he had introduced the wealthy businessman to his successor, Díaz, according to the indictment. Díaz continued to give Gorrín access to the Venezuelan government’s profitable currency exchange system, just as Andrade had done during his tenure.

Gorrín, who is living in Venezuela, is accused of paying $65 million to Díaz and her husband, Velásquez, including transferring about $9 million from bank accounts in Switzerland to accounts in Miami between October 2012 and May 2013, according to the indictment.

The conspiracy case cites four wire transfers for $4.35 million, $4 million, $485,000 and $281,000 from Gorrín’s bank accounts in Switzerland to Miami accounts for the couple’s benefit, according to charges filed by Justice Department trial attorneys Vanessa Sisti and Paul Hayden and Miami federal prosecutor Kurt Lunkenheimer. A big chunk of that money went towards buying a yacht for the couple, the charges say.

That connection to Miami is the foundation of the money-laundering case, which centers on the Venezuelan treasury’s issuance of bonds and the Gorrín-led group’s exploitation of the government’s bolivar-dollar exchange system.


(c) 2020 Miami Herald

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