U.S. Charges Man in $250 Million Venezuela Bribery Scandal
U.S. authorities arrested and charged a wealthy Syrian national living in Florida for bribing Venezuelan officials to obtain procurement contracts from state-owned or state-controlled food and energy companies and laundering the bribes, a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) statement said.
Naman Wakil, 59, allegedly bribed officials at a Venezuelan food company Corporación de Abastecimiento y Servicios Agrícola (CASA), and the energy company Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), to obtain roughly US$250 million in contracts to sell food to CASA and do business with PDVSA joint ventures.
He laundered the money related to the bribes to and from Florida bank accounts and bought 10 condos, a $3.5 million plane and a $1.5 million yacht, among other luxury purchases.
If convicted, Wakil faces a maximum penalty of 80 years in prison, the DoJ statement said on Wednesday.
This is not the first time Wakil has found himself at the center of notoriety. In 2016, he was mentioned in the McClatchy series of the Panama Papers scandal that erupted when journalists revealed how Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca helped wealthy clients avoid taxes and hide their money in offshore accounts.
Wakil’s business endeavours also brought him into contact with the highest echelons of the Venezuelan government, including General Carlos Osorio Zambrano, with whom Wakil allegedly defrauded the government of millions in a procurement scam.
In 2012, Osorio was head of CASA and Wakil allegedly bribed two officials - who were the general’s wife’s brothers - to obtain a beef procurement contract. He purchased 40,000 tons of Brazilian beef at a discounted rate, given its expiring shelf life. But his invoices to the government claimed the beef was purchased at market price. Wakil then made off with the $76 million in profits.
General Osorio has denied being involved in the deal.
Leaked emails from Mossack Fonseca list Wakil’s net worth at roughly $400 million, of which a substantial portion was amassed through illicitly acquired government contracts.
Venezuela has fallen victim to having billions of dollars embezzled out of its economy, including through PDVSA and CASA.
As a result, the country’s economy has experienced sharp declines in recent years, contributing to rising levels of extreme poverty, deprivation of basic human needs, and emigration.