December, 7 2018 (Miami Herald)
A foreign banker sentenced to three years in prison for his key role in moving stolen Venezuelan treasury funds to South Florida was ordered by a federal judge Thursday to pay $38 million to the U.S. government.
Gabriel Arturo Jimenez Aray, 50, who operated a bank in the Dominican Republic that paid out bribes to Venezuelan officials through Miami banks, agreed to the forfeiture as part of his money-laundering plea deal with federal prosecutors.
Jimenez, formerly of Venezuela, collaborated with Caracas TV network mogul Raul Gorrín to acquire Banco Peravia in Santo Domingo in 2010, which served as a conduit for making bribery and other payments through the bank’s company in Miami, Peravia Group, according to court records.
The banking scheme was a spoke in the wheel of a massive money-laundering racket that prosecutors say was directed by Gorrín, who was indicted last month on conspiracy and corruption charges but remains in Venezuela. Gorrín, 50, is accused of bribing top officials in Venezuela’s government over the past decade to exploit a preferred currency exchange rate and launder the proceeds through European and U.S. banks. The scheme surpassed $1 billion, according to prosecutors.
The Dominican Republic bank received millions in embezzled Venezuelan government funds from Swiss banks, and then moved the money to Peravia Group’s accounts at JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America in Miami, according to a statement filed with Jimenez’s plea deal.
“Peravia Group’s accounts were opened in Miami, Florida, in the name of Banco Peravia in order to give the appearance the accounts were legitimate and tied to Banco Peravia in the Dominican Republic,” the statement says.
In the Venezuelan corruption scheme, Gorrín first collaborated with former national treasurer Alejandro Andrade and later with his successor, Claudia Diaz, and her husband, Adrian Jose Velasquez Figueroa, a former chief of security at the presidential palace in Venezuela., according to federal authorities. Diaz and Velasquez, who are living in Spain, have not been charged in the South Florida case.
Andrade, 54, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge a year ago and was sentenced to 10 years in prison last month by U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg. But because he is still cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Homeland Security Investigations, Andrade doesn’t have to surrender to prison until February.
Andrade agreed to a $1 billion forfeiture judgment, but his defense attorneys Curtis Miner and Bob Martinez maintain he only received about $70 million in the scheme. He spent that money on an equestrian farm in Wellington, show-jumping horses, luxury cars and high-end watches. Whatever Andrade pays back will go to the U.S. government, too.
Gorrín, Andrade and the others are accused of enriching themselves by capitalizing on favorable foreign currency exchanges and concealing their staggering profits in European and U.S. bank accounts and investments. Andrade used his official position as national treasurer to give Gorrín access to the government’s preferred exchange rates to maximize profits on currency transactions, prosecutors said. The funds to fuel the scheme were generated by the national treasury’s issuance of bonds.
When Andrade stepped down in early 2011, his successor, Diaz, and her husband, are suspected of continuing the bribery and money-laundering racket with Gorrín at the helm, authorities said.
Gorrín moved millions of dollars in bribery payments through Banco Peravia, until its collapse in 2014, according to court records.
Jimenez, who pleaded guilty earlier this year, was sentenced to three years in prison by Rosenberg, the federal judge. Jimenez, who now lives in Chicago, has been allowed to surrender in June because of his ongoing cooperation in the case.
Gorrín’s defense attorney, Howard Srebnick, has said his client committed no wrongdoing. Gorrín has been registered as a fugitive. Prosecutors Vanessa Snyder and Michael Nadler have moved to freeze his real estate fortune in Miami and New York, along with other assets.