Former Julius Baer Banker Gets 10 Years for Venezuelan Plot

(Bloomberg) -- A former Swiss banker was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in a plot to launder $1.2 billion stolen from Venezuela’s state-owned oil producer, but the judge said she may reduce his term if prosecutors are satisfied with his cooperation.

The banker, Matthias Krull, 45, was sentenced Monday in federal court in Miami, where he pleaded guilty on Aug. 22. He admitted that he joined a network of money launderers that used real estate and false-investment schemes to hide funds taken from Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., known as PDVSA.

Krull was among eight people charged by the Justice Department in July in the matter and was the first to plead guilty. Another defendant, Abraham Edgardo Ortega, the former executive director of finance at PDVSA, is scheduled to appear in Miami federal court on Wednesday and plead guilty, court records show. Like Krull, Ortega is also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.

U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga imposed a $50,000 fine on Krull and ordered him to forfeit $600,000, or the amount in fees that he earned for helping to launder funds. Prosecutors said he tried to launder $600 million and actually moved $60 million.

The judge said Krull had led an “honorable and righteous life” and had been active in his church before he helped to funnel money out of Venezuela.

“These actions seem to be at odds with the man I have before me,” Altonaga said. “It’s almost like you’re two people. You allowed yourself to go along and take actions which you knew in your heart of hearts were wrong.”

While she imposed the maximum sentence he faced, she said she may lower the term if prosecutors say he provided “substantial assistance” to their investigation. Krull attorney Oscar Rodriguez said Krull has been cooperating with prosecutors. They’re looking into Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, his three stepsons, and Raul Gorrin, owner of the Globovision television network in Venezuela, a person familiar with the matter said.

‘Blame Myself’

At the hearing, Krull apologized to the people of Venezuela, the U.S. government, his wife and his three young children.

“I fully blame myself for being in this situation,” Krull said as he sobbed. “I apologize for making a bad decision. I pray and hope you won’t look at me as a bad person.”

Krull, who is free on $5 million bail, won’t have to report to prison until April 29, the judge ordered.

His arrest on July 24 set off an internal investigation by his former employer, Julius Baer Group Ltd., Switzerland’s third-largest wealth manager, to determine whether others at the bank played a role in the scandal. The bank is also reviewing all of its client accounts worldwide to determine the source of funds, placing a particular emphasis on Latin America.

The bank is in the third and final year of a so-called deferred-prosecution agreement to avoid U.S. prosecution after admitting in 2016 that it helped thousands of Americans conceal billions of dollars in assets. Julius Baer paid $547 million in penalties, and two bankers pleaded guilty. A former Julius Baer banker also pleaded guilty last year in New York for his role in funneling money from an Argentinian sports-marketing company to officials at world soccer’s governing body, FIFA.

“Mr. Krull is a former employee who has been sentenced to charges brought against him in his personal capacity -- the bank is not charged of any wrongdoing,” said Julius Baer spokeswoman Larissa Alghisi. “The charges brought against Mr. Krull are not related to the matters covered in the bank’s DPA, and we have no indication that these events will have any impact on the DPA.”

Panama Rainmaker

Krull, who was born in Germany, lived in Venezuela as a boy and later in Mexico and Switzerland before joining Julius Baer and moving to Panama. He was considered a rainmaker who managed accounts for Venezuelan officials and kleptocrats, and he amassed more than 500 accounts with more than $500 million in assets, the person familiar with the matter said.

Prosecutors say he joined a conspiracy that involved money managers and brokerages, as well as banks and real-estate firms.

Aside from the PDVSA, FIFA and tax-evasion scandals, Julius Baer said in March that it suspended an employee in Russia while the bank looked into allegations made by Swiss federal prosecutors.

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