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Former Venezuelan official turns himself in to US authorities over Billion dollar money laundering investigation

By Elizabeth Hearst

A former high-profile lawyer in Venezuela’s oil ministry has turned himself into a Miami federal court, ending a two year US indictment for his alleged role in a money laundering and corruption scheme. 

According to US authorities, Carmelo Urdaneta Aqui, former legal counsel to the Venezuelan Ministry of Oil and Mining was involved in a massive corruption and money laundering programme, in which they allege that Aqui plotted to steal $1.2 Billion from the Venezuelan government. 

Mr Urdaneta is accused of accepting bribes in conjunction with other state officials in the state-owned oil company known as PDVSA. It is believed that the bribes originated from wealthy individuals who had links with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Mr Urdaneta agreed to turn himself in and was accompanied by federal officials on a flight to Miami last weekend. 

As reported by Bloomberg, Mr Urdaneta escaped from Venezuela last week and was escorted by US federal agents at the Colombian border who transferred him to Florida. 

Mr Urdaneta pleads not guilty to a money laundering conspiracy charge which could potentially result in 20 years in prison. He was granted a $1.5 Million bond by Judge Lauren Louis after his bond was secured by four properties he owns in South Florida and in agreement between his defense attorney and prosecutors. 

It is believed that Mr Urdaneta could give US prosecutors inside information into President Nicolás Maduro and the involvement of high profile individuals in the corrupt oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). US prosecutors believe that a sophisticated group of launderers worked over a number of years to conceal $1.2 Billion dollars stolen through PDVSA. 

Currently the US has sanctioned more than 150 Venezuelen individuals, with the Department of Justice actively pursuing several corruption cases. Earlier this year, US officials launched an investigation and announced charges against Maduro and other Venezuelan officials in a drug trafficking case. 

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