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A Swiss and an Argentine were charged in Miami Tuesday with helping launder part of $1.2 billion taken from Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA in a long-running corruption and bribery investigation.
Ralph Steinmann, 48, and Luis Fernando Vuteff, 51, both formerly top officials of Swiss-based financial asset management firm Aquila Swissinvest, were accused of assisting Venezuelan officials and other co-conspirators in siphoning off funds from PDVSA between 2014 and 2018.
The charges filed in federal court said the two were retained to launder a large chunk of the funds stolen from the oil company in a currency exchange scheme underpinned by bribery.
"Steinmann, Vuteff, and others allegedly discussed and agreed to create the sophisticated financial mechanisms and relationships required to launder more than $200 million related to the scheme," the Justice Department said in a statement.
They also helped "open accounts for or on behalf of at least two Venezuelan public officials to receive their bribe payments related to the scheme."
The charges said the two, fully aware of the corrupt nature of the funds, helped create accounts to move the money and to place it in financial and real estate investments.
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The conspiracy began in December 2014 with a currency exchange scheme designed to embezzle around $600 million from PDVSA, through bribery and fraud.
The culprits maximized profits by taking advantage of access to the favorable rates of the Venezuelan government's foreign currency exchange system, converting bolivars to dollars, and by May 2015, the conspiracy had allegedly doubled in value, according to court filings.
Steinmann and Vuteff were each charged with a single count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and face up to 20 years in prison.
In 2018 US prosecutors charged several people central to the PDVSA fraud.
Matthias Krull, a former executive at Swiss bank Julius Baer, pleaded guilty to laundering and received a 10-year prison sentence.
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