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Businessman admits FCPA offenses in Citgo bribe case

An executive who controlled several U.S.-based companies pleaded guilty Wednesday to bribing officials at subsidiaries of Venezuela’s state energy company.

Jose Manuel Gonzalez Testino (Gonzalez), 49, of Miami, Florida, pleaded guilty in federal court in Houston to one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, one count of violating the FCPA, and one count of failing to report foreign bank accounts. 

Sentencing is set for August 28.

Gonzalez, a dual U.S.-Venezuelan citizen, was arrested in July 2018 at Miami International Airport.

He bribed four officials at Citgo Petroleum Corporation. Citgo, based in Houston, is owned by Venezuela’s state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA).

Among other things, Citgo bought “goods and services on behalf of PDVSA,” the DOJ said.

Gonzalez bribed the Citgo officials to win energy and logistics contracts and get his companies paid faster than other PDVSA vendors.

He and a co-conspirator paid at least $629,000 in bribes to Citgo’s former general manager, Cesar David Rincon-Godoy, in 2012 and 2013. The DOJ has charged Rincon-Godoy with money laundering offenses.

Gonzalez also admitted bribing an official who worked at another Houston-based PDVSA logistics subsidiary, PDVSA Services Inc. The official, Alfonso Eliezer Gravina Munoz, has been cooperating with the DOJ after pleading guilty to obstruction, conspiracy to launder money, and making false statements on his federal income tax return.

On Wednesday in Houston, Gonzalez also pleaded guilty to failing to report his interest in a foreign bank account in 2017.

Twenty-one defendants have been charged in connection with bribery at PDVSA. Sixteen have now pleaded guilty, the DOJ said.

Charges are still pending against five other defendants in the case.

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Richard L. Cassin is editor at large of the FCPA Blog.

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