Billionaire Pleads Guilty to Bribing Venezuelan Treasury Official

(CN) – The billionaire owner of a Venezuelan TV network pleaded guilty to bribery and laundering more than $1 billion through U.S. banks and real estate funds after the Department of Justice led a high-profile bust.

Raul Gorrin Belisario, a Venezuelan citizen and Miami resident, stands accused of offering champion horses, yachts, luxury watches and other items as bribes to former Venezuelan national treasury official Alejandro Andrade Cedeno in exchange for control of foreign currency exchange transactions in Venezuala.

The indictment filed last August in the Southern District of Florida was unsealed this week. It charges Gorrin with conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act alongside money laundering charges.

According to the indictment, Gorrin wired some of the bribes – including more than $1 billion in funds – from Florida to Andrade through multiple shell companies. He also enlisted the help of Banco Peravia bank owner Gabriel Jimenez, the Department of Justice said.

In Venezuela, currency is prone to collapsing, anti-money laundering attorney Andrew Ittleman said in an interview.

“There, the bills I hold in my hands could be worth less tomorrow than they are today, so controlling foreign exchange in local transactions would be a coveted position if you have a corrupt intent,” he said. “Those seeking to exchange local currency would have to depend on the decisions of this appointed person.”

In a country that imposes currency control and where corrupt leaders may have these decision-making opportunities, Ittleman said, regular citizens end up being the ones to lose out.

Money laundering, he said, is confusing by design.

“Unfortunately, laundering foreign money through U.S. companies and profiting from these ill-gotten gains is quite common. The whole purpose is to hide in plain sight,” he said.

Jimenez and Andrade pleaded guilty to money laundering charges in early 2018. Those pleas were also unsealed Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment.

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