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Company owner, employee admit FCPA offenses in Venezuela oil company bribe case

The owner of multiple U.S.-based oil and gas services companies pleaded guilty Tuesday to FCPA and fraud charges for bribing officials to win contracts from Venezuela’s state-owned energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA).

Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas, 52, of Coral Gables, Florida, pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and commit wire fraud and one count of violating the FCPA. 

He appeared before Judge Gray Miller in Houston.

Sentencing is scheduled for July 8.

Four others charged in the case have pleaded guilty. They include a former employee of Shiera and three foreign officials who worked for PDVSA, the DOJ said Wednesday.

Judge Miller unsealed their guilty pleas Tuesday.

Shiera was arrested in Miami on December 16. A federal grand jury indicted him on 18-counts.

Charged wth him was Roberto Enrique Rincon Fernandez, 55, of The Woodlands, Texas. 

Shiera said he and Rincon submitted joint bids to provide equipment and services to PDVSA through their various companies. 

Shiera admitted in his plea that beginning in 2009, he and Rincon agreed to bribe PDVSA purchasing analysts to make sure their companies were on PDVSA bid slates.

Rincon supplied PDVSA with $500 million in oil equipment a year, “becoming one of the state oil firm’s most important contractors, according to former senior executives of the oil firm,” the Wall Street Journal said in December.

Shiera said he also bribed PDVSA officials so his companies would have payment priority on their outstanding invoices.

The charges against Rincon are still pending. He’s facing one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and commit wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, seven counts of money laundering and four counts of violating the FCPA. 

At a hearing on December 18, federal judge Nancy Johnson in Houston ordered Rincon detained pending trial.

*     *      *

One of the four other guilty pleas Judge Miller unsealed Tuesday was entered in January 2016.

Moises Abraham Millan Escobar, 32, of Katy, Texas, pleaded guilty under seal to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA for bribing PDVSA officials. He was Shiera’s former employee. 

And in December 2015, three former PDVSA employees — Jose Luis Ramos Castillo, 38, Christian Javier Maldonado Barillas, 39, and Alfonzo Eliezer Gravina Munoz, 53, all from Katy — pleaded guilty under seal to conspiracy to commit money laundering. 

When they worked for PDVSA, Ramos, Maldonado, and Gravina took bribes from Shiera and Rincon in exchange for helping them win contracts from the energy company. 

The three admitted they conspired with Shiera and Rincon to launder the bribe money.

Gravina also pleaded guilty to making false statements on his 2010 U.S. federal income tax return. He failed to report the bribe payments he received from Shiera, Rincon, and others. 

As part of their pleas, Shiera, Millan, Ramos, Maldonado, and Gravina agreed to forfeit the “proceeds of their criminal activity.” The DOJ hasn’t said how much they’ll forfeit.

Leslie Caldwell, chief of the DOJ’s criminal division, said, “The five convictions announced today hold to account bribe payors as well as the corrupt foreign officials who laundered the bribe money through the United States.”


Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.

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