WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) – A former Venezuelan National Treasurer was sentenced in Florida federal court Tuesday to 10 years in prison for taking massive bribes in exchange for granting his co-conspirators access to favorable government rates in the currency-exchange market.
Alejandro Andrade Cedeno, resident of an upscale equestrian community in Wellington, Fla., admittedly took tens of millions of dollars in bribes from brokerage house operators who he selected to carry out currency exchanges involving the Venezuelan treasury, the Oficina Nacional del Tesoro.
Andrade served as Venezuela’s treasurer for roughly four years beginning in 2007, as part of now-deceased Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s government. Andrade continued raking in the bribes until Nov. 2017.
“Andrade received cash as well as private jets, yachts, cars, homes, champion horses, and high-end watches from his co-conspirators,” the U.S. Department of Justice said in a Tuesday statement.
Entering into a late 2017 plea deal, Andrade admitted to accepting the bribes as well as conspiring to launder funds in the United States. He also consented to a forfeiture order, allowing his properties in South Florida as well as his collection of valuable sport horses to be seized by the U.S. government.
The criminal case against him in the Southern District of Florida was sealed until last week, while he cooperated with federal investigators in their pursuit of charges against his alleged cohorts, including Raul Gorrin Belisario.
The Department of Justice announced Nov. 20 that it was charging Gorrin, a Venezuelan billionaire who owns the Globovision news network, with participating in the currency exchange scheme and showering Andrade with lavish bribes. Gorrin was charged 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.
The scheme involved more than $1 billion in bribes, $94 million of which flowed to Andrade, federal prosecutors say. Once Andrade left office around 2011, he introduced Gorrin to his replacement, and the scheme continued, according to the Gorrin indictment.
Prosecutors say brokerage firms controlled by Gorrin and other co-conspirators would reap windfall profits after they paid off Andrade to select them for currency exchanges tied to the Venezuelan treasury, which was converting U.S. dollars from bond sales into Venezuelan bolivars.
“The Venezuelan Government has a foreig currency exchange system under which the government will exchange its local currency (bolivars) at a fixed rate for certain foreign currency. The fixed exchange rate has been well below the black market rate by a substantial factor for several years,” a government memorandum explains.
“The difference between the fixed exchange and the black market exchange rates creates opportunity for fraud and abuse. For example, in 2014, if an individual had access to the fixed exchange rate, [he] could exchange six million bolivars at the fixed … rate and obtain one million dollars. Subsequently, the individual could exchange the one million dollars at the black market exchange rate for sixty million bolivars. In this way, the individual could convert six million bolivars into sixty million bolivars,” the memorandum states.
Through his official position as the Venezuelan National Treasurer, Andrade influenced decisions on which brokerage houses received government business to conduct currency exchanges at the fixed rate, federal prosecutors allege. After securing the bribes, Andrade would grant brokerage operations (including those controlled by Gorrin) access to the fixed rate, which in turn would allow them to “profit immensely” from Venezuelan bolivar exchanges, prosecutors allege.
Gabriel Arturo Jimenez Aray, former owner of Banco Peravia, also pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme. Jimenez told investigators that he conspired with Gorrin to acquire Banco Peravia, which was used to launder bribe money and the proceeds of the scheme.