Homeland Security seizes $250 million from convicted ex-Venezuelan treasurer
By JAY WEAVER | Miami Herald | Published: December 14, 2019
MIAMI (Tribune News Service) — Federal agents have seized $250 million from convicted ex-Venezuelan national treasurer Alejandro Andrade, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for his central role in a $1 billion money laundering scheme that allowed him to hide a fortune in overseas banks as well as luxury real estate in South Florida.
Officials with Homeland Security Investigations in Miami on Thursday disclosed the seizure, which was carried out in recent weeks as part of a $1 billion forfeiture against the former top official in the socialist government of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The funds will be kept by the U.S. government.
Over the past year, HSI agents had seized about $50 million from Andrade, including overseas bank accounts, an equestrian farm in the exclusive Wellington area of Palm Beach County, 14 prized show-jumping horses, and a fleet of luxury cars, such as a 2015 Bentley Continental Convertible. The horses, with names like Bonjovi, Hardrock Z and Tinker Bell, were imported from various parts of Europe, court records show.
In an interview Thursday, HSI’s special agent in charge, Anthony Salisbury, called Andrade’s theft a “significant fleecing of a foreign nation” — indicative of billions of dollars that have been stolen from the Venezuelan government by politically connected kleptocrats and former senior officials in Venezuela’s treasury and state-run oil company known as PDVSA.
HSI agents have assisted the U.S. attorney’s office in bringing money laundering conspiracy cases against Andrade and 11 other defendants accused of embezzling billions from the Venezuelan government through bribery and currency-exchange rackets. Kevin Tyrrell, assistant special agent in charge of HSI’s Miami office, said “we do anticipate additional charges.”
HSI officials in Miami highlighted the Andrade case as part of the broad range of investigative work the agency has conducted over the past year, leading to more than 1,100 arrests in South Florida stemming from international money laundering, gun smuggling, financial fraud and human trafficking, among other crimes.
Andrade pleaded guilty in late 2017 to selling access to the Venezuelan government’s lucrative foreign-currency exchanges, enriching himself and an elite circle of other senior officials and a prominent businessman before and after Chavez’s death in 2013, according to court records. Andrade, who had once served as a bodyguard for Chavez, was the national treasurer from 2007 to early 2011.
Andrade, 55, was allowed to surrender to prison in February after his sentencing because he had been assisting federal authorities in the massive case. The U.S. attorney’s office said Andrade conspired with three other key players in the money laundering ring by giving them access to the Venezuelan government’s favorable dollar-to-bolivar currency exchange. Prosecutors said the scheme generated about $2.4 billion in illicit profits for Andrade’s three co-conspirators, and they agreed to share half of their money with Andrade while keeping it in European and U.S. banks.
However, Andrade’s defense attorneys, Curtis Miner and Bob Martinez, challenged the government’s assessment, saying the co-conspirators controlled the bank accounts and that their client actually received about $70 million in bribes — not $1 billion.
As part of his plea agreement, Andrade assisted prosecutors Michael Nadler and Vanessa Snyder in building the sprawling case against some of Venezuela’s richest people. Among them: TV network tycoon Raúl Gorrin, 51, who was indicted a year ago but remains in Venezuela. An indictment charges Gorrin, a politically connected Caracas businessman, with conspiring to bribe Venezuelan officials and commit money laundering by hiding embezzled government funds in South Florida and New York real estate over the past decade.
The international money laundering scheme allegedly led by Gorrin transpired over a period of extreme economic hardship for everyday Venezuelans. Oil rich and once wealthy, Venezuela is staggering under an economic collapse that has led to hyperinflation and food and medicine shortages. More than four million people have fled the country in recent years, according to the United Nations.
Gorrin is accused of paying bribes to Andrade and another former high-ranking official in the national treasury office by funneling the money to them through a Venezuelan banker in the Dominican Republic. Gabriel Arturo Jimenez Aray controlled Banco Peravia, which was set up by Gorrin to launder money stolen from the Venezuelan government, prosecutors said. Jimenez pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison.
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