Former Venezuelan officials charged with bribery linked to oil company

UPI International Top News |

More than two dozen people were charged with corruption in an alleged kickback scheme linked to Venezuela's state-run oil company.

On Thursday, a judge in Andorra, a tiny country located between France and Spain, charged 28 people, including former high-ranking Venezuelan officials, with receiving up to $2.3 billion in kickbacks to grease the wheels for the oil company, PDVSA. Prosecutors say the money was hidden in the Banca Privada d'Andorra, or BPA, a now-defunct bank linked to money laundering.

Half of those charged are from Venezuela. Nine are from Andorra and five are from Spain.

The list includes Nervis Villalobos and Javier Alvarado, former deputy energy ministers under former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's government. It also includes Diego Salazar, the cousin of former oil minister Rafael Ramirez.

The investigation will focus on bribes that were given in exchange for lucrative contracts between 2007 and 2012.

Judge Canolic Mingorance said the accused conspired to take control of PDVSA's energy infrastructure. She's been investigating the case since 2012.

Andorran authorities shut down BPA after the U.S. Treasury found the bank was laundering money to criminal organizations.

Several high-ranking Venezuelan officials already have sanctions on them or have their assets frozen.

U.S. Treasury official Marshall Billingslea recently accused President Nicolas Maduro of "rapacious corruption" and of operating a "kleptocracy."

Venezuela blames U.S. sanctions for the collapse of the country's economy and PDVSA's woes, saying it's under attack by "imperialist foes."

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