Forfeiture action in PDVSA bribery, money laundering case highlights all-cash real estate deal

11 October 2018 00:00

The US Justice Department has filed a final motion for forfeiture of $891,730 of bribe proceeds that a Petroleos de Venezuela SA official obtained from two US businessmen in exchange for illicitly promoting their firms in the PDVSA bidding process.

The forfeiture motion and the criminal information that initiated it illustrate how a high-value, all-cash real estate transaction conducted by a shell company can be used in a bribery scheme.

Karina Carmen del Nunez-Arias, a former purchasing agent of the government-owned oil company PDVSA, in October 2016 pleaded guilty to laundering bribes she received from Roberto Rincon of Texas and Abraham Shiera of Florida. Some of the bribes were cash transfers to bank accounts, court documents say, but $1.2 million flowed directly to the real estate purchase that is the subject of forfeiture.

The criminal information for the money-laundering charge against her said that she helped place Rincon and Shiera's businesses before PDVSA bidding panels. Both Rincon and Shiera have pleaded guilty to Foreign Corrupt Practices Act charges.

On May 8, 2012, Nunez-Arias's information said, Shiera transferred $150,000 to a real estate closing agent to serve as a deposit on a residence.

The property was 1441 Bella Vista Avenue in Coral Gables, Florida, a home near a canal of boat slips off Biscayne Bay. The real estate was purchased in the name of Davark LLC, the forfeiture order said.

On May 31, 2012, Rincon transferred $1,000,000 from a bank in Texas and a week later Shiera transferred an additional $50,5776 to the real estate closing agent to pay for the real estate.

Miami-Dade County property records show that Davark LLC bought the property for $1.2 million on June 29, 2012.

In a preliminary order for forfeiture concurrent with Nunez-Arias's plea, US District Judge Gary Miller said that she had consented to the forfeiture of the property as part of her plea agreement. He ordered that if the property were sold, then the net proceeds would be subject to forfeiture.

Miami-Dade County property records show that on Sept. 5, 2017, almost a year after Nunez-Arias's plea agreement, the property sold for $1.35 million. The motion for final forfeiture says that the net proceeds of that sale amounted to $891,730.

Davark LLC's 2012 purchase of the property occurred before the US Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network required, starting March 1, 2016, that title insurers identify the beneficial owners of companies that purchase high-value real estate in Miami in all-cash deals and report the transactions to FinCEN. FinCEN has said that all-cash real estate purchases made by shell companies are frequently used to hide the proceeds of illegal activity.

Nunez-Arias is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 26 in the Southern District of Texas. In addition to the forfeiture of the net proceeds of the property, she has also agreed to a judgment of $3.38 million. She will be among the first of 14 defendants who have pleaded guilty in a wide-ranging PDVSA bribery and money laundering case to be sentenced. Another four people have been charged in connection with the scheme.

Rincon and Shiera are scheduled to be sentenced, along with six other co-defendants, on Feb. 21, 2019, court records show.

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