A former Venezuelan official admitted to soliciting and receiving bribes from owners of certain U.S. energy companies. The official pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. The guilty plea is the 11th plea deal the DOJ obtained in its ongoing multi-year investigation and prosecution of bribery at Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. ("PDVSA"), Venezuela's state-owned oil company.

According to the indictment filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Cesar David Rincon Godoy and several other Venezuelan officials ("defendants") allegedly entered into agreements with the U.S. companies where, in exchange for bribes and kickbacks, the defendants offered the U.S. companies unfair advantages with PDVSA including (i) securing business contracts and (ii) helping to procure "payment priority" when PDVSA was unable to pay vendors on time. The defendants allegedly laundered the profits through complex transactions, including international wire transfers to and from Swiss bank accounts.

In accordance with the plea agreement, Mr. Rincon agreed to pay a penalty of more than $7 million.

Commentary / Christian Larson

While the FCPA does not criminalize a foreign official's acceptance of a bribe, the DOJ has proven adept at charging bribe-takers using the money laundering statute. Indeed, the prosecution of Mr. Rincon and other Venezuelan government officials for accepting bribes stems from the same PDVSA corruption probe that led to the guilty pleas of two American bribe givers in 2016. The message from the DOJ is clear: foreign officials should be on notice that they are not beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement, and prosecutors are willing and able to use all available statutes to punish foreign bribery.

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