Venezuelan businessman pleads guilty in U.S. energy bribery case

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 22, 2016 10:12 PM

(Reuters) - 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 pleaded guilty on Tuesday.

Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas, 52, pleaded guilty in federal court in Houston to charges that he engaged in a conspiracy and violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, according to court records.

Lawyers for Shiera, who is manager of Vertix Instrumentos, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department confirmed the plea but had no other comment.

Shiera and Roberto Rincon, president of Tradequip Services & Marine, were arrested in December on charges that they engaged in a corrupt scheme involving Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA),[PDVSA.UL] Venezuela's state-owned oil company.

The indictment said Rincon, 55, and Shiera conspired to pay bribes to officials to secure contracts from PDVSA.

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 upmarket 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.

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

Rincon has pleaded not guilty and 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 Andrew Hay)