The logo of the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA is seen at a gas station in Caracas, Venezuela. File photo: REUTERS/MARCO BELLO
The logo of the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA is seen at a gas station in Caracas, Venezuela. File photo: REUTERS/MARCO BELLO

Miami — The US has arrested two people in a ring of former officials and business people who laundered $1.2bn in funds from Venezuela’s state oil firm, authorities said on Wednesday.

With Venezuelans living with grave shortages of food and services, oil firm PDVSA — the country’s cash-cow — was widely used for the financial gain of regime defiers.

"The alleged conspirators include former PDVSA officials, professional third-party money launderers, and members of the Venezuelan elite," a federal indictment in Florida’s second district said.

The suspects’ conspiracy allegedly began in December 2014 with a currency exchange scheme designed to embezzle about $600m from PDVSA, through bribery and fraud, that also saw them launder some proceeds. They maximised profits by taking advantage of access to the favourable rates of the Venezuelan government’s foreign currency exchange system, converting bolivars to dollars.

By May 2015, the conspiracy had allegedly doubled in value.

Matthias Krull, a German national, and Gustavo Hernandez Frieri, a Colombian, were arrested between Tuesday and Wednesday in Miami, Florida, and in Italy.

The indicted Venezuelans, meanwhile, are Francisco Convit, shareholder of energy company Derwick Associates; Carmelo Urdaneta, former petroleum and mining ministry legal advisor; Abraham Ortega, former PDVSA staffer; and José Vicente "Chente" Amparan, a businessman and "professional money launderer" with links to Spain and Malta.

Venezuela’s economic freefall continues, with hyper-inflation expected to soar to another record this year — 1,000,000% as forecast by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

On Wednesday, President Nicolás Maduro said that on August 20, five zeros would be dropped off its currency and accounts, along with a theoretical pegging of the bolivar to a new government crypto-currency.

AFP