Spanish Court Asked to Fine Duro Felguera €160M in Venezuela Alleged Bribery Case

Published: 09 July 2024

CaracasCaracas, Venezuela (Photo: PxHere, License)

By Laura Weffer Cifuentes, Valentina Lares and Antonio Baquero

Spanish anti-corruption prosecutors have asked a court to impose a fine of 160 million euros ($173 million) on the engineering and construction company Duro Felguera S.A., which they allege bribed Venezuelan officials in return for securing a contract to build a power plant.

Prosecutors have also requested prison sentences and fines for two of Duro Felguera’s previous presidents, as well as Nervis Villalobos, Venezuela’s former energy vice-minister, according to an indictment seen by OCCRP.

“All the commissions paid by ‘Duro Felguera’ were aimed at ensuring the company was privileged both in the awarding of the construction of the thermoelectric power plant and in the payments from the Venezuelan Administration,” reads the indictment, which was provided yesterday to the court and parties to the case.

The court will now decide whether to lay charges in the case, and it will consider the prison sentences and fines requested by the Special Prosecutor's Office against Corruption and Organized Crime.

Through a communications agency, the company said “there is no element, record, evidence or indication that Duro Felguera is responsible for any criminal act and, after eight long years of investigation, there will finally be the opportunity to prove it.”

Duro Felguera added that its board of directors and management committee “have been completely renewed and since 2018 they have no relationship with the previous management teams.”

The indictment did not list Villalobos’ lawyer, and reporters could not reach him for comment.

The alleged bribery scheme dates back to 2009 when Venezuela was in the midst of an energy crisis, with blackouts so common that the government declared an "electrical emergency.”

In response, the government commissioned a thermoelectric plant, which generates energy by boiling water to produce steam that drives a turbine. The $1.5-billion facility in the city of Santa Lucia would provide electricity to greater Caracas, the Venezuelan capital of 4.5 million people.

Prosecutors accuse Duro Felguera of paying more than $105 million to Villalobos via “intermediary companies… in order for him to use his capacity to influence the Venezuelan Administration for the benefit of that business.”

Villalobos was “the person who controlled and distributed the funds among corrupt officials and politicians,” prosecutors allege in the indictment. As well as Spain, Villalobos has been indicted in the U.S. and Venezuela for alleged corruption, OCCRP has reported.

In total, prosecutors asked the court to lay charges against 11 individuals, as well as Duro Felguera, which was founded in 1858 and has its headquarters in the northern Spanish city of Gijón.

Prosecutors also recommended that Duro Felguera be banned for two years from receiving Spanish public sector contracts, subsidies or tax benefits.

This story has been updated with comments from Duro Felguera.