Venezuelan president caught up in US forex fraud investigation

Chris Lee

Nicolas Maduro, the president of Venezuela, is in the eye of a storm once again. He has been implicated in a €160m money laundering scam that is being investigated by the US authorities, who claim that the money was laundered via an unnamed private investment firm from Malta.

Homeland Security Investigations has filed a criminal complaint in the courts of Miami, claiming that Maduro’s stepsons were involved in laundering USD $1.2bn, which was stolen from Petroleos de Venezuela, SA, which is a government-owned oil company in Venezuela. The stolen funds were transferred to a bank in Malta between 2014 and the early half of 2015.

The fraud took place with the help of numerous fake investment schemes, which included fake bond issues as well as investment funds.

US investigators state that Maduro’s three stepsons were responsible for transferring €511m over 10 wire transfers and this amount was then laundered via Malta.

However, it is important to note that the US Attorney’s Office has not mentioned Nicolas Madura’s name in particular in the criminal complaint. There are only references to him as “Venezuelan Official 2”. The three stepsons have been described with the Spanish equivalent for stepsons and the complaint stated that they have received €160m of the money that was stolen from the state oil company after the Venezuelan foreign exchange market rates were manipulated. This amount was then transferred to a bank in Malta.

The eight individuals named in the criminal complaint have been accused of embezzling money from the state oil company and manipulating the forex system in the country to build massive fortunes in the US and Europe. These individuals had access to the government’s forex system which allowed them to offer a much higher rate of exchange compared to the prevailing rate in the market. They used the access to convert VEF to USD and EUR.

The complaint pointed out that in 2014, the government of Venezuela overvalued the VEF by a factor of 10 and as a result, it garnered massive returns for those who had access to the government forex rate.

The documents did not mention the private investment firm in Malta other than stating that it was responsible for receiving over €20m as payment for laundering €511m. This works out to about 4% of the total amount.

An affidavit filed in the court has named one Jose Vincente Amparan Croquera, also known as Chente. He is a Venezuelan national and is regarded as a professional money launderer. The authorities in the US have managed to trace and confirm the flow of funds from the Venezuelan oil company to the defendants and others via the Maltese private investment firm.

It is alleged that the money laundering started in December 2014 with the tampering of the Venezuelan foreign exchange rate system and this led to about $600m being embezzled from the Venezuelan oil company. The money was obtained via forex fraud and bribes, and the accused then used an associate to launder a part of the embezzled funds. It is this associate who became the confidential source for the US authorities.

Chris Lee

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