Image courtesy of the Southern District of Texas.

The owner of several U.S.-based energy companies pleaded guilty on Wednesday to charges for his role in a bribery scheme tied to contracts from Venezuela’s Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA).

Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas, 52, of Coral Gables, Florida, pleaded guilty in a Houston federal court to one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and commit wire fraud and one count of violating the FCPA, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Sentencing is scheduled for July 8, 2016.

Shiera was arrested in Miami in December 2015 after a federal grand jury returned an 18-count indictment against him and Roberto Enrique Rincon Fernandez, 55, of The Woodlands, Texas.

According to admissions made in connection with Shiera’s plea, Shiera and Rincon collaborated to submit bids to provide equipment and services to state-owned PDVSA through their companies.

Shiera admitted that, beginning in 2009, he and Rincon agreed to pay bribes to PDVSA purchasing analysts in order to secure their companies a place on PDVSA bidding panels.

Shiera also admitted to paying bribes to other PDVSA officials to ensure that his companies were placed on PDVSA approved vendor lists and given payment priority ahead of other vendors.

Four others charged in relation to the case have pleaded guilty, including three foreign officials, the DOJ said.

In January 2016, Moises Abraham Millan Escobar, a 32 year old former employee of Shiera’s, pleaded guilty under seal to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA for his role in the PDVSA bribery scheme.

Three former PDVSA officials, Jose Luis Ramos Castillo, Christian Javier Maldonado Barillas and Alfonzo Eliezer Gravina Munoz, each pleaded guilty under seal in December 2015 to conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Ramos, 38, Maldonado, 39, and Gravina, 53, all reside in Katy, Texas.

As part of their guilty pleas, Ramos, Maldonado and Gravina each admitted that  while employed by PDVSA or its wholly owned subsidiaries or affiliates they accepted bribes from Shiera and Rincon in exchange for helping their companies win PDVSA contracts.

Ramos, Maldonado and Gravina also admitted that they conspired with Shiera and Rincon to launder the proceeds of the bribery scheme.

Gravina also pleaded guilty to making false statements on his 2010 federal income tax return by failing to report the bribe payments he received from Shiera, Rincon and others.

As part of their plea agreements, Shiera, Millan, Ramos, Maldonado and Gravina all agreed to forfeit proceeds of their criminal activity.

The charges against Rincon remain pending, the DOJ said.

Rincon is charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and commit wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, seven counts of money laundering and four counts of violating the FCPA.

He was ordered detained pending trial following a detention hearing held on December 18 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy K. Johnson of the Southern District of Texas.

“The five convictions announced today hold to account bribe payors as well as the corrupt foreign officials who laundered the bribe money through the United States. These individual prosecutions are the result of a tenacious and coordinated effort by our prosecutors and agents to unravel a complex web of bribes paid to Venezuelan officials,”Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell said.


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