Former Julius Baer Executive Pleads Guilty to Money Laundering

(Bloomberg) -- A former Julius Baer Group Ltd. wealth manager admitted to participating in a billion-dollar scheme to launder money embezzled from Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, less than a month after he was arrested for his alleged role in the plot.

Matthias Krull, 44, a German citizen and resident of Panama, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, federal prosecutors in Miami said in a statement. Krull was arrested in July and charged with using real estate in Florida and fake investment schemes to conceal $1.2 billion in funds that were embezzled from PDVSA. He’s scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 29.

Authorities in the U.S. and Switzerland are probing how billions of dollars were embezzled from PDVSA, or Petroleos de Venezuela SA as it’s formally known. Switzerland in 2016 seized $118 million in bank assets linked to a Venezuelan businessman who has admitted to bribing PDVSA officials to steer about $1 billion in energy-supply contracts.

A Colombian national wanted on the same charges as Krull was also arrested in July and the Justice Department said at the time that six suspects from Venezuela, Portugal and Uruguay remained at large.

Krull faces as much as 10 years at sentencing, and has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, according to his plea agreement.

Krull was a senior relationship manager at Julius Baer based in Panama at the time of the alleged money laundering. The company said in June that some bankers had left amid a strategic realignment of Baer’s Latin American unit. The exits from Switzerland’s third-biggest wealth manager included Krull, Bloomberg reported.

The conspiracy began in 2014 with a currency exchange scheme crafted to divert $600 million from PDVSA obtained from bribery and fraud, according to federal prosecutors. By May of 2015, the “conspiracy had doubled in amount to $1.2 billion embezzled from PDVSA,” prosecutors said in a complaint.

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