(CN) – The Justice Department announced Wednesday that two men have been arrested on charges they participating in a billion-dollar scheme to launder funds embezzled from Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA using Miami, Florida real estate and a patchwork sophisticated false-investment schemes.
Matthias Krull, 44, a German national and Panamanian resident, and Gustavo Adolfo Hernandez Frieri, 45, a Colombian national and naturalized U.S. citizen, were charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The complaint also charged Francisco Convit Guruceaga, 40; Jose Vincente Amparan Croquer, aka, “Chente,” 44; Carmelo Urdaneta Aqui, 44; and Abraham Eduardo Ortega, 51, all Venezuelan nationals; and Hugo Andre Ramalho Gois, 39, a Portuguese national, and Marcelo Federico Gutierrez Acosta y Lara, 40, a Uruguayan national, for their alleged participation in the scheme.
These defendants remain at large, the Justice Department said.
Krull was arrested Tuesday night in Miami and had his initial court appearance Wednesday morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alicia Otazo-Reyes in Miami. He is scheduled to have a pre-trial detention hearing on July 30, and a preliminary hearing on Aug. 8.
Frieri was arrested Wednesday in Sicily, Italy and faces extradition proceedings.
According to the criminal complaint, the alleged money-laundering conspiracy began in December 2014 with a currency-exchange scheme to embezzle $600 million from PDVSA obtained through bribes and fraud.
The defendants allegedly used an associate, who later became a confidential source for investigators, to launder a portion of the PDVSA funds.
By May of 2015, the conspiracy had doubled to $1.2 billion embezzled from Venezuela’s national oil company, prosecutors say.
The complaint goes on to say the government’s foreign-currency exchange system, which offers a far more favorable rate than the everyday market, was used to convert bolivars to dollars as the defendants stole from the country’s oil riches for overseas investments in Florida, Europe and elsewhere.
In 2016, a money launderer associated with the Venezuelan ring approached Homeland Security investigators in Miami about cooperating and becoming a confidential source, the complaint says.
The source agreed to wear a recording device to launder $78 million in PDVSA funds that he had received from a loan contract with the national oil company.
The federal probe, called Operation Money Flight, was launched with the initial focus on the defendants’ efforts to launder a portion of the $78 million.
HSI Miami, HSI London, HSI Rome and HSI Madrid investigated this case. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Chief David Johnson of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Francisco Maderal of the Southern District of Florida’s International Narcotics and Money Laundering Section.