Venezuelan TV Mogul Charged in U.S. Bribery, Laundering Case

(Bloomberg) -- A billionaire who owns a Venezuelan television network pleaded guilty to taking part in a currency-exchange scam that resulted in more than $1 billion being laundered through U.S. banks and real estate investments, according to federal prosecutors in Miami.

Raul Gorrin Belisario, who bought the Globovision television network in 2013, bribed a National Treasury official and another person so he could bypass Venezuelan currency controls and get money out of the country, according to documents unsealed Monday in federal court in West Palm Beach, Florida. The bribes included luxury items such as jets, a yacht and champion race horses, the U.S. said.

Alejandro Andrade Cedeno, 54, the former Venezuelan national treasurer, and Gabriel Arturo Jimenez Aray, 50, a Venezuelan who owned Banco Peravia in the Dominican Republic, also pleaded guilty in cases unsealed Tuesday, according to U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan.

The prosecution expands the Justice Department’s attack on corruption that has crippled Venezuela as it goes through one of its worst economic crises. In a related case, Miami prosecutors charged nine people in a money-laundering scandal involving $1.2 billion stolen from Venezuela’s state-owned oil producers Petroleos de Venezuela SA, known as PDVSA.

Gorrin, 50, purchased Venezuela’s only privately owned TV channel specializing in news and softened its anti-government rhetoric, fired journalists and ended current affairs programs. On Sept. 21, a federal judge declared Gorrin, a Venezuelan citizen with a home in Miami, a fugitive from the U.S. His attorney, Howard Srebnick, didn’t return a call seeking comment.

Andrade, who lives in Wellington, Florida, was one of two high-ranking Venezuelan officials who took bribes from Gorrin in exchange for granting him rights to conduct foreign-currency exchange transactions at favorable rates, the U.S. said.

Andrade agreed to forfeit $1 billion in cash and assets including real estate, aircraft, vehicles, horses and bank accounts. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 27.

Jimenez, who lives in Chicago, admitted to conspiracy to commit money laundering. He said he joined Gorrin and others to buy the bank and use it to launder money and bribe proceeds. He’s set to be sentenced on Nov. 29, the U.S. said.

Gorrin is charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and conspiring to launder money, using the proceeds of his crimes to buy properties in southern Florida and New York. The U.S. seeks forfeiture of two dozen properties, including luxury homes and apartments.

The indictment details instances in which Gorrin wired money from Swiss bank accounts, including ones at HSBC Holdings Plc, to pay Venezuelan officials in exchange for their help in awarding him business. HSBC wasn’t accused of wrongdoing. The bank, through spokesman Rob Sherman, declined to comment.

Gorrin, is referred to as a conspirator in the PDVSA case. He wasn’t charged in that matter.

The case is U.S. v. Belisario, 18-cr-80160, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida (West Palm Beach).

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