2 arrested, 6 wanted in $1.2 billion scheme to defraud Venezuela's oil company, prosecutors say

Venezuelans use scheme to launder embezzled funds, officials say

File Photo by Oscar Sabetta/GettyImages
File Photo by Oscar Sabetta/GettyImages

MIAMI – Amid the economic crisis in Venezuela, at least $1.2 billion was stolen from the state-owned oil and gas company with the help of an international network of professional money launderers, according to U.S. Department of Justice officials in Miami.  

The alleged network includes Venezuelan supporters of the socialist revolution, money managers, brokerage firms, banks and real estate investment firms. Prosecutors said that a currency exchange scheme was used to embezzle the money obtained through bribery and fraud from Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA. 

U.S. Homeland Security Investigations agents believe Carmelo Urdaneta, the former legal counsel to the Venezuelan Ministry of Oil and Mining, set up the Paladium Real Estate Group, a Florida corporation formed with his wife, Carolina Croquer, to buy Unit 2205 at the 60-story Porsche Design Tower in Sunny Isles Beach last year.

Investigators said Urdaneta, 44, then used the $5.3 million unit to pay Jose Vicente Amparan Croquer, 44, better known as Chenter, for his money laundering services through the equity of the down payment. 

Urdaneta is accused of working with Abraham Eduardo Ortega, 51, who was the PDVSA executive director of finance, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

Authorities are also searching for Francisco Convit Guruceaga, 40, a shareholder of the Venezuelan energy company Derwick Associates; Hugo Andre Ramalho Gois, 39, a Portuguese national; and Marcelo Federico Gutierrez Acosta y Lara, 40, a Uruguayan national.

Only two of the eight who are allegedly involved were arrested this week. 

Gustavo Adolfo Hernandez Frieri, a 45-year-old Colombian-American, was arrested on Wednesday in Sicily. With offices in Miami, New York City, Bogota, Medellin and Cali, he is accused of helping the Venezuelans launder money through false investments in mutual funds.

Banker Matthias Krull was arrested on Tuesday night at Miami International Airport and is accused of using real estate in Miami and false investment schemes. Investigators said the 44-year-old German father was in Panama working as a senior relationship manager with the Julius Baer Group, a Swiss multinational private bank, when he allegedly helped to launder the stolen funds. 

Italian officials are extraditing Hernandez to Miami. Krull appeared in front of Judge Alicia M. Otazo-Reyes on Wednesday in Miami. He will have a pretrial detention hearing on Monday and a preliminary hearing on Aug. 8.  

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the National Crime Agency of the United Kingdom and Italian, Spanish and Maltese law enforcement authorities worked with U.S. authorities on this case. 

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