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Former Venezuelan treasurer charged with accepting millions in Miami corruption case

By JAY WEAVER | Miami Herald | Published: October 31, 2020

A former Venezuelan national treasurer and her husband accepted massive bribes from a politically connected billionaire who paid them through U.S. bank accounts so he could gain access to the government's lucrative currency exchange system, according to a new federal criminal case filed in Miami.

Former Venezuelan treasurer Claudia Patricia Diaz Guillen, a former naval officer, and her husband, Adrian Velasquez Figueroa, a former presidential security guard, were charged Friday with accepting tens of millions of dollars from the billionaire, Raul Gorrin, in a foreign corruption and money laundering case.

Gorrin, who owns a TV station in Venezuela along with now-frozen luxury properties in Miami and New York, is considered a fugitive after being indicted two years ago as the mastermind of the bribery conspiracy during the presidency of the late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013.

Diaz, a former nurse for Chavez who served as national treasurer between 2011 and 2013, and her husband, Velasquez, are living in Spain and are expected to face extradition to the United States.

The couple are among more than a dozen former Venezuelan government officials, business people and associates who have been charged with money laundering in Miami stemming from a series of foreign corruption probes led by Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Attorney's Office. The alleged embezzlement of billions has contributed to the former oil-rich nation's economic collapse, leading to a widespread lack of food, housing and medicine, along with an exodus of millions of Venezuelans.

Diaz succeeded Alejandro Andrade as Venezuela's treasurer. Andrade, who had once been Chavez's bodyguard, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in 2018 after cooperating with U.S. authorities and secretly providing evidence on her, her husband, Gorrin, and a Venezuelan banker who operated a bank in the Dominican Republic to steer some of the bribery payments to the group, according to Gorrin's indictment and other court records.

Andrade admitted in a plea deal that he had bought an equestrian estate in Palm Beach County along with a stable of show-jumping horses as well as a fleet of exotic cars with the bribery payments from Gorrin. The former national treasury, who served in the Venezuelan government between 2007 and 2010, turned over $300 million in bank accounts and other assets to the U.S. government.

Gorrin paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to Andrade before and after his tenure as national treasurer because he had introduced the wealthy businessman to his successor, Diaz, according to Gorrin's indictment and the new charges against the couple. Diaz continued to give Gorrin access to the Venezuelan government's profitable currency exchange system, just as Andrade had done during his tenure.

Gorrin, who is living in Venezuela, is accused of paying $65 million to Diaz and her husband, Velasquez, including transferring $8.6 million from bank accounts in Switzerland to accounts in Miami between November 2012 and May 2013, according to Gorrin's indictment.

The new money laundering conspiracy case cites two wire transfers for $4 million and $281,000 from Gorrin to the couple's Miami bank accounts in 2013, according to charges filed by Justice Department trial attorney Vanessa Sisti and federal prosecutor Kurt Lunkenheimer.

That connection to Miami is the foundation of the money laundering case, which centers on the Venezuelan treasury's issuance of bonds and the Gorrin-led group's exploitation of the government's bolivar-dollar exchange system.

Gorrin is portrayed as the alleged paymaster who used his Swiss bank accounts and the Dominican Republic bank to take care of lavish personal expenses for him, Andrade, Diaz and her husband. Among the expenses covered by Gorrin in South Florida and Texas: chartered jets, a yacht, more than a dozen champion horses and high-end watches, according to court records.

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