Two NY broker-dealer executives charged in Venezuelan bribery case

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 14, 2014 5:18 PM

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two former executives of a defunct New York broker-dealer were indicted Monday as part of a widening U.S. investigation into foreign bribery involving their employer and Venezuelan state economic development banks.

Benito Chinea, the former chief executive of Direct Access Partners LLC, and Joseph Demeneses, a onetime managing director at the firm, were the latest individuals charged in connection with foreign bribes paid to secure trading business.

Federal prosecutors in New York accuse Chinea, 47, and Demeneses, 44, of participating in a bribery scheme from 2008 through 2012 involving payments to a senior official at Caracas-based Banco de Desarrollo Económico y Social de Venezuela, known as Bandes.

Prosecutors have previously said the kickback scheme generated more than $60 million in fees for Direct Access through the bond trading business the Bandes official directed to the firm.

The official, Maria de los Angeles Gonzalez de Hernandez, in exchange earned $5 million in kickbacks, prosecutors have previously said.

Direct Access's parent company filed for bankruptcy after charges were first unveiled in May.

Gonzalez meanwhile pleaded guilty in November to conspiracy to violate the Travel Act and commit money laundering, as well as two substantive counts tied to each of those violations.

She and three former Direct Access employees or associates who have also pleaded guilty have been cooperating with prosecutors as the investigation continues.

Chinea and Demeneses were arrested Monday morning. A 15-count indictment against them carried charges including conspiracy, money laundering and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the Travel Act.

The two men pleaded not guilty at a hearing before U.S. District Judge Denise Cote, who set bail for both at $1 million each. The judge scheduled trial for February 9.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission meanwhile on Monday sought to add Chinea and Demeneses as defendants in a related civil lawsuit filed in last year over the "massive scheme."

As part of the proposed amended complaint, the SEC added a new allegation that Demeneses and four other Direct Access employees engaged in a similar kickback scheme involving a vice president at a second state-owned bank, Banfoandes.

The Banfoandes vice president is not named in the complaint. The San Cristobal-based bank was shut down by the Venezuela government in 2009.

Lawyers for Chinea and Demeneses declined comment.

The case is U.S. v. Chinea, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 14-cr-240.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)