US Charges Five in $1.6 billion Venezuelan Bribery Scheme

U.S. courts last week indicted three Colombians and two Venezuelans for laundering US$1.6 billion in bribes allegedly paid to Venezuelan officials in exchange for contracts, the U.S. Department of Justice revealed in a statement.


venezuela food crisisEmpty shelves at stores in Venezuela; By Eneas De Troya, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)The suspects have been accused of “laundering the proceeds of a bribery scheme to obtain and retain inflated contracts through the Comité Local de Abastecimiento y Producción (CLAP), a Venezuelan state-owned and state-controlled food and medicine distribution program for the people of Venezuela.” the DOJ said. 

Alvaro Pulido Vargas, aka Cuchi, Emmanuel Enrique Rubio Gonzalez, and Carlos Rolando Lizcano Manrique, of Colombia; along with Jose Gregorio Vielma-Mora and Ana Guillermo Luis of Venezuela conspired with others to launder the proceeds of the bribery scheme from bank accounts in Antigua, the United Arab Emirates, and elsewhere to and through bank accounts in the United States, the statement said.

Thanks to those bribes, they and their associates were able to enrich themselves by acquiring lucrative contracts to import and distribute food and medicine throughout the ailing South American nation, the indictment said.

The move comes amidst Venezuela's ongoing economic crisis which has fueled power cuts, hyper inflation and shortages of food and medicine. 

The crisis is such that earlier this year, the U.N. stepped in to provide food for Venezuelan children as malnourishment skyrocketed, BBC reported. 

According to a 2020 study, one out of every three in the Bolivarian Republic were unable to access their necessary daily nutrition, and 2.3 million were severely food deprived. 

If convicted of the five-count indictment, they could face sentences as high as a century’s worth of prison time in total.