Two arrested and charged with conspiring to bribe PDVSA officials

Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) signage is displayed on a building in Puerto La Cruz, Anzoategui State, Venezuela, on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. Hunger is hastening the ruin of Venezuelan's oil industry as workers grow too weak and hungry for heavy labor. Absenteeism and mass resignations mean few are left to produce the oil that keeps the tattered economy functioning. Photographer: Wil Riera/Bloomberg
Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) signage is displayed on a building in Puerto La Cruz, Anzoategui State, Venezuela, on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. Hunger is hastening the ruin of Venezuelan's oil industry as workers grow too weak and hungry for heavy labor. Absenteeism and mass resignations mean few are left to produce the oil that keeps the tattered economy functioning. Photographer: Wil Riera/Bloomberg

The president of a Miami-based company and its former sales representative were arrested Monday for their alleged roles to unlawfully obtain business advantages through bribery and kickbacks from Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA).

Rafael Enrique Pinto Franceschi, 40, of Miami, and Franz Herman Muller Huber, 68, of Weston, FL, were arrested in Miami after a five-count indictment from Houston was unsealed Tuesday. The pair are each charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, two counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to launder money.

According to the Justice Department, Muller was president of a Miami-based PDVSA supplier identified in court records as “Company A,” while Pinto was a sales representative. The indictment alleges that beginning in  2009 and continuing through at least 2013, Muller and Pinto conspired to bribe three PDVSA officials to get business with the state-run oil company.

In exchange for the bribes, PDVSA officials allegedly helped company A obtain contracts and pay fictitious invoices, according to the government.

The wire fraud charges against the pair are based on allegations they received kickbacks, with  Pinto allegedly receiving more than $985,000 and Muller over $258,000, according to the Justice Department.

Pinto referred all questions to his lawyer, who could not be immediately reached. Muller could not be reached for comment.

With the unsealing of the indictment Tuesday, the Justice Department has brought charges against 21 individuals, 15 of whom have pleaded guilty as part of an ongoing U.S. government investigation into bribery at PDVSA.

This article first appeared on the Houston Chronicle – an Energy Voice content partner. For more from the Houston Chronicle click here.

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