The U.S. Justice Department announced on Thursday that it was charging three Colombians and two Venezuelans for money laundering in connection with a Venezuela bribery scheme.
The individuals allegedly laundered the proceeds of inflated contracts through a Venezuelan state-owned food and medicine distribution program called CLAP.
In order to operate through CLAP, DOJ said the individuals bribed Venezuelan government officials to obtain the contract.
The defendants were: Alvaro Pulido Vargas, 57, of Colombia; Jose Gregorio Vielma-Mora, 55, of Venezuela; Emmanuel Enrique Rubio Gonzalez, 32, of Colombia; Carlos Rolando Lizcano Manrique, 50, of Colombia; and Ana Guillermo Luis, 49, of Venezuela.
“The defendants and their co-conspirators knowingly inflated the costs of the contracts to pay the bribes and unjustly enrich themselves,” said the Justice Department.
The money laundering began around July 2015 and continued until at least 2020, said the Justice Department.
The indictment stated that the five individuals and their co-conspirators received $1.6 billion from Venezuela and transferred $180 million through or to bank accounts in the U.S.
Each of the defendants was charged in a five-count indictment with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and four counts of money laundering. If convicted, they will each face a maximum penalty of 100 years in prison.
One of the defendants, Vargas, was sanctioned in Britain in July this year for exploiting two of Venezuela’s public programs that were intended to help poor Venezuelans with affordable food and housing.
“They benefitted from improperly awarded contracts, where promised goods were delivered at highly inflated prices,” said the UK Foreign Office in a statement. “Their actions caused further suffering to already poverty-stricken Venezuelans, for their own private enrichment.”
In 2019, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Vargas who was accused of being a “profiteer orchestrating a vast corruption network that has enabled former President Nicolás Maduro (Maduro) and his regime to significantly profit from food imports and distribution in Venezuela.”
Vargas’ business associate, Alex Saab, was reported to have close ties with Maduro’s regime.
Saab was “frequently paying bribes and kickbacks to Government of Venezuela officials, to win overvalued government contracts,” according to a statement by the U.S. Treasury Department.
Defendant Jose Gregorio Vielma-Mora was sanctioned by Canada in 2017 for “significant corruption and violations of human rights in Venezuela, which are contributing to the serious crisis in that country.”