Venezuelan businessman to be sent to Texas for U.S. corruption case

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 14, 2016 12:47 PM

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - A judge in Miami on Thursday ordered the transfer to Texas of a Venezuelan businessman accused by U.S. prosecutors of taking part in a $1 billion conspiracy to pay bribes to obtain contracts from Venezuela's state oil company.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrea Simonton deferred to a federal judge in Houston on whether Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas, who has been charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and conspiring to launder money, should be released on bail.

"It would be the Texas judge who would make that decision," she said.

A lawyer for Shiera, Daniel Fetterman, declined comment. The lawyer has not commented on the charges.

Shiera has been detained since Dec. 16, when he and his co-defendant, Tradequip Services & Marine President Roberto Rincon, were arrested on charges contained in an indictment filed in federal court in Houston.

According to the indictment, Rincon, 55, and Shiera, the manager of Vertix Instrumentos, conspired to pay bribes to officials to secure contracts from Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA),[PDVSA.UL] Venezuela's state-owned oil company.

PDVSA last month denounced what it called an international smear campaign by opponents to link alleged wrongful acts committed by Venezuelan citizens and businesses to the company.

The indictment charging Shiera and Rincon said five PDVSA officials received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes made through wire transfers, mortgage payments, airline tickets and, in one case, whiskey.

The bribes also came in the form of more than $14,000 for one company official spent at the posh Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, the indictment said.

From 2009 to 2014 more than $1 billion was traced to the conspiracy, with $750 million to Rincon, a Venezuelan who lives in Texas, according to court documents.

An attorney for Rincon has said he denies the allegations.

The case also has ties to one high-profile U.S. prosecution alleging top ranking Venezuelan officials facilitated drug trafficking.

An order by a federal magistrate judge in Houston last month detailing why she denied Rincon bail noted what she called his "close personal friendship" with retired Venezuelan General Hugo Carvajal.

Carvajal, Venezuela's former military intelligence chief, was arrested in 2014 in Aruba on U.S. drug trafficking charges, but Aruban authorities declined to extradite him and he returned to Venezuela.

Carvajal was arrested on Rincon's privately-owned airplane, according to Johnson's order.

Rincon is scheduled to face trial on April 25.

The case is U.S. v. Rincon-Fernandez, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas, No. 15-cr-654.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Frances Kerry)