A former Venezuelan national treasurer was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison by a U.S. court in South Florida for accepting bribes in excess of $1 billion and laundering the money through Florida real estate and personal luxury items.
Alejandro Andrade, 54, who was once a bodyguard for socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, enjoyed the trappings of spectacular illicit wealth in one of Florida’s most exclusive communities, while millions of fellow Venezuelans struggled to survive the country’s political instability and economic collapse brought about by Andrade and his compatriots.
That appears to be over now—at least for Andrade.
Once Venezuela’s top financial official, Andrade pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering under a sealed agreement in December 2017. The charges were unsealed Nov. 20, and on Nov. 27, U.S. District Judge Robin L. Rosenberg of the Southern District of Florida sentenced him to the maximum allowable penalty.
Andrade had been living in a 9,000-square-foot mansion in the exclusive equestrian community of Wellington in Palm Beach County, Florida. He remained at the estate over the past year while assisting federal agents in a massive international corruption investigation involving government officials and business leaders operating at the highest levels of Venezuelan society.
Andrade posted a $1 million bond, and will continue to remain at his now-seized Wellington horse farm until he reports to prison in February. He reportedly will continue cooperating with federal authorities.
As part of his guilty plea, Andrade admitted to receiving over $1 billion in bribes from a co-conspirator, Caracas-based media mogul Raul Gorrin, among others, to help secure the rights to conduct lucrative foreign currency-exchange transactions at favorable rates for the Venezuelan government.
Gorrin, a billionaire Venezuelan national with a residence in Miami, was charged in a federal indictment filed in August of 2017 in the Southern District of Florida with one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and nine counts of money laundering. He is currently a fugitive from justice.
According to his indictment, Gorrin had been paying hundreds of millions in bribes to Andrade and another high-level government official, and was wiring them money from a bank in the Dominican Republic.
The laundering scheme provides a window into how corruption unfolded at the highest levels of the once oil-rich South American socialist government. Gorrin created multiple shell companies to conceal the massive bribe payments, and allegedly partnered with a third indicted co-conspirator named Gabriel Jimenez, a Venezuelan banker living in Chicago.
Together, Gorrin and Jimenez acquired Banco Peravia, a bank in the Dominican Republic, to deposit the proceeds of the currency transactions and then launder bribe payments back to the Venezuelan officials through the shell companies.
In addition to cash payments through the scheme, Andrade acquired private jets, yachts, cars, homes, champion horses, and high-end watches.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, Andrade ultimately agreed to a forfeiture judgment of $1 billion and to forfeit all involved assets. Jimenez also pleaded guilty and is scheduled for sentencing on Nov. 29.
On Nov. 21, a day after Andrade’s indictment was unsealed, federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security raided his Wellington estate and seized 17 prize European show horses worth millions of dollars. The Miami Herald reported that a fleet of luxury cars and multiple U.S. and Swiss bank accounts also were seized.
Andrade had served as Hugo Chavez’s national treasurer from 2010 to 2013, and—like other wealthy and well-connected Venezuelans with the means to leave the shattered country—he relocated with his family to South Florida in 2014.
On Oct. 31, another high-profile Venezuelan official pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida for his role in a billion-dollar international laundering scheme involving embezzled funds from the Venezuelan state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA).
Abraham Edgardo Ortega was PDVSA’s executive director of financial planning, and according to his indictment, he admitted to accepting $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.
Like Andrade, Ortega was paid from laundered proceeds of a currency exchange scheme through which $1.2 billion was embezzled from PDVSA through bribery and fraud, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida. Ortega also admitted to receiving another $12 million in bribes for participating in a separate PDVSA embezzlement scheme involving a loan and foreign-exchange contract. He is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 9.
On Oct. 29, Matthias Krull, a former Swiss bank executive, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in the same South Florida federal court for his role in a PDVSA embezzlement plot. Krull was the managing director and vice chairman of a Swiss bank and also pleaded guilty to laundering embezzled funds.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Krull and other participants of the Venezuelan oil conspiracy used Miami real estate and sophisticated false-investment schemes to conceal their ill-gotten gains.