Eight foreign nationals were indicted in Miami on federal money laundering charges for allegedly embezzling over $1.2 billion from PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-owned oil company.
The defendants allegedly used real estate in Miami-Dade County, including a condo at Porsche Design Tower in Sunny Isles Beach, to lauder the stolen funds.
Matthias Krull, 44, a German national and resident of Panama, was arrested in Miami on July 24 on charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Gustavo Adolfo Hernandez Frieri, 45, faces the same charges and was arrested in Italy, where he faces extradition proceedings to the U.S.
Also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and currently at large are Venezuelan nationals Francisco Convit Guruceaga, 40; Jose Vincente Amparan Croquer, aka “Chente,” 44; Carmelo Urdaneta Aqui, 44; Abraham Eduardo Ortega, 51; Portuguese national Hugo Andre Ramalho Gois, 39; and Uruguayan national Marcelo Federico Gutierrez Acosta y Lara, 40.
Miami attorney Oscar J. Rodriguez, who represents Krull, declined comment. The other defendants don’t have attorneys listed in federal court records.
Krull was a banker with Switzerland-based Julius Baer, where he worked with many Venezuelan officials.
Frieri became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2013 and worked at Miami financial firms Global Security Advisors and Global Strategic Investments, according to the indictment, which labeled him a “professional money launderer.”
Gutierrez is a part-owner of at least one U.S. bank that allegedly facilitated money laundering, although the indictment didn’t identify that bank.
The indictment also calls Amparan a “professional money launderer” and said he worked with a company in Spain, it didn’t identify, that operated as a real estate investment firm, but was really a front for money laundering. The indictment also said he worked in the Miami office of Solar Cargo, an air cargo company hired by PDVSA to move medicine from Iran to Venezuela.
Urdaneta was the former legal counsel to Venezuela’s ministry of oil and mining. Ortega was the former executive director of finance at PDVSA.
The investigation started after a confidential source approached law enforcement officials in Miami in 2016, disclosed his or her involvement in a money laundering scheme with PDVSA funds, and agreed to cooperate with authorities through an undercover investigation, according to the indictment. That started the Operation Money Flight investigation.
The confidential source recorded conversations as he or she participated in an alleged scheme by the defendants to embezzle $600 million in funds from PDVSA in 2014, with that amount doubling to $1.2 billion in 2015, according to the indictment.
In May 2016, Urdaneta had a condo at Porsche Design Tower under contract after making an initial deposit, and was asked by the developer to close on the unit, according to the indictment. He allegedly purchased the condo using funds from the money laundering scheme through Paladium Real Estate Group LLC in January 2017. This LLC was formed with Urdantea’s wife as the manager initially, and Amparan’s wife added later. After the transaction closed, Urdaneta’s wife was removed, leaving Amparan’s wife in control.
“We just learned about this series of events,” said Porsche Design Tower builder Dezer Development, in a statement. “We have not been contacted by the authorities, but will certainly cooperate to the extent they request.”
In April 2016, the confidential source met Frieri, who allegedly told him how he could launder money through his brokerage firm in Miami. Global Securities Advisors operated a fake mutual fund used to launder money by disguising payments, the indictment alleged.
Krull allegedly met with the confidential informant in October 2016 with a request to help a client, “Conspirator 7” – an unidentified billionaire who owns a television network in Venezuela – deposit $600,000 from a currency exchange of bolivars with PDVSA, according to the indictment. Krull’s client allegedly had $1.2 billion in currency exchange contracts with PDVSA, and he needed to conceal most of those transactions. They agreed to launder the money through the fake mutual fund set up by Frieri, according to the indictment.
The indictment also alleges Krull and Amparan helped “Conspirator 7” launder millions of dollars through a European financial institution through shell companies, with some of the money paying for aviation and yacht services in Miami.
Further, the indictment alleges that Krull helped unidentified Venezuelan officials conceal kickback payments they received from foreign law firms that had been hired by the Venezuelan government.
Gois allegedly helped Amparan and the confidential informant launder money through a European financial institution using British pounds.
In one instance, Convit, Amparan and Urdaneta allegedly created a fake joint venture between a Hong Kong shell company and a trust to launder money under the guise of making loans to PDVSA, according to the indictment.