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Venezuela Pleads Guilty in US to Role in PDVSA Bribe Scheme

A former official at a Venezuelan state-run electric company pleaded guilty on Monday to U.S. charges that he participated in a scheme to solicit bribes in exchange for helping vendors win favorable treatment from state oil company PDVSA.

Luis Carlos De Leon Perez, 42, pleaded guilty in federal court in Houston to conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and to conspiring to commit money laundering, the U.S. Justice Department said.

He became the 12th person to plead guilty as part of a larger investigation by the Justice Department into bribery at Petroleos de Venezuela SA that became public with the arrest of two Venezuelan businessmen in December 2015.

The two men were Roberto Rincon, who was president of Tradequip Services & Marine, and Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas, the manager of Vertix Instrumentos. Both pleaded guilty in 2016 to conspiring to pay bribes to secure energy contracts.

De Leon is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 24. His lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

De Leon was arrested in October 2017 in Spain and was extradited to the United States after being indicted along with four other former Venezuelan officials on charges they solicited bribes to help vendors win favorable treatment from

PDVSA.

An indictment said that from 2011 to 2013 the five Venezuelans sought bribes and kickbacks from vendors to help them secure PDVSA contracts and gain priority over other vendors for outstanding invoices during its liquidity crisis.

Prosecutors said De Leon was among a group of PDVSA officials and people outside the company with influence at it who solicited bribes from Rincon and Shiera. De Leon worked with those men to then launder the bribe money, prosecutors said.

De Leon also sought bribes from the owners of other energy companies and directed some of that money to PDVSA officials in order help those businesses out, prosecutors said.

Among the people indicted with De Leon was Cesar David Rincon Godoy, a former general manager at PDVSA’s procurement unit Bariven. He pleaded guilty in April to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Others charged included Nervis Villalobos, a former Venezuelan vice minister of energy; Rafael Reiter, who worked as PDVSA’s head of security and loss prevention; and Alejandro Isturiz Chiesa, who was an assistant to Bariven’s president.

Villalobos and Reiter were, like De Leon, arrested in Spain, where they remain pending extradition, the Justice Department said. Isturiz remains at large.

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Venezuela Pleads Guilty in US to Role in PDVSA Bribe Scheme

A former official at a Venezuelan state-run electric company pleaded guilty on Monday to U.S. charges that he participated in a scheme to solicit bribes in exchange for helping vendors win favorable treatment from state oil company PDVSA.

Luis Carlos De Leon Perez, 42, pleaded guilty in federal court in Houston to conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and to conspiring to commit money laundering, the U.S. Justice Department said.

He became the 12th person to plead guilty as part of a larger investigation by the Justice Department into bribery at Petroleos de Venezuela SA that became public with the arrest of two Venezuelan businessmen in December 2015.

The two men were Roberto Rincon, who was president of Tradequip Services & Marine, and Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas, the manager of Vertix Instrumentos. Both pleaded guilty in 2016 to conspiring to pay bribes to secure energy contracts.

De Leon is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 24. His lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

De Leon was arrested in October 2017 in Spain and was extradited to the United States after being indicted along with four other former Venezuelan officials on charges they solicited bribes to help vendors win favorable treatment from

PDVSA.

An indictment said that from 2011 to 2013 the five Venezuelans sought bribes and kickbacks from vendors to help them secure PDVSA contracts and gain priority over other vendors for outstanding invoices during its liquidity crisis.

Prosecutors said De Leon was among a group of PDVSA officials and people outside the company with influence at it who solicited bribes from Rincon and Shiera. De Leon worked with those men to then launder the bribe money, prosecutors said.

De Leon also sought bribes from the owners of other energy companies and directed some of that money to PDVSA officials in order help those businesses out, prosecutors said.

Among the people indicted with De Leon was Cesar David Rincon Godoy, a former general manager at PDVSA’s procurement unit Bariven. He pleaded guilty in April to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Others charged included Nervis Villalobos, a former Venezuelan vice minister of energy; Rafael Reiter, who worked as PDVSA’s head of security and loss prevention; and Alejandro Isturiz Chiesa, who was an assistant to Bariven’s president.

Villalobos and Reiter were, like De Leon, arrested in Spain, where they remain pending extradition, the Justice Department said. Isturiz remains at large.

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US Sends Another $6 Million to Help Colombia Cope with Venezuelan Refugees

The Trump administration is sending another $6 million in humanitarian aid to Colombia to help it deal with the more than 1 million Venezuelans who have fled across the border.

U.S. Agency for International Development chief Mark Green made the announcement Monday in the Colombian border city of Cucuta.

Green said the Venezuelans are trying to escape what he called an avoidable man-made humanitarian crisis.

“They are fleeing hunger. They are fleeing a lack of medicine and a lack of opportunity. More fundamentally, they are fleeing opposition and tyranny, and they are fleeing a dysfunctional despotic regime.”

The U.S. has already spent $32 million helping Venezuelans in the border region of Colombia, including supplying food, vaccines and aid to hospitals trying to cope with the sea of refugees.

Green said the United States condemns Venezuela’s “delusional and inhumane” policies and accused President Nicolas Maduro of human rights abuses.

Venezuela’s one-time oil-rich economy has collapsed in part because of the global drop in energy prices, failed socialist policies, and government corruption.

There are extreme shortages of food, gasoline and medicine.

Maduro has blamed the crisis on the United States and what he said is U.S.-backed opposition trying to drive him from power.

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US Sends Another $6 Million to Help Colombia Cope with Venezuelan Refugees

The Trump administration is sending another $6 million in humanitarian aid to Colombia to help it deal with the more than 1 million Venezuelans who have fled across the border.

U.S. Agency for International Development chief Mark Green made the announcement Monday in the Colombian border city of Cucuta.

Green said the Venezuelans are trying to escape what he called an avoidable man-made humanitarian crisis.

“They are fleeing hunger. They are fleeing a lack of medicine and a lack of opportunity. More fundamentally, they are fleeing opposition and tyranny, and they are fleeing a dysfunctional despotic regime.”

The U.S. has already spent $32 million helping Venezuelans in the border region of Colombia, including supplying food, vaccines and aid to hospitals trying to cope with the sea of refugees.

Green said the United States condemns Venezuela’s “delusional and inhumane” policies and accused President Nicolas Maduro of human rights abuses.

Venezuela’s one-time oil-rich economy has collapsed in part because of the global drop in energy prices, failed socialist policies, and government corruption.

There are extreme shortages of food, gasoline and medicine.

Maduro has blamed the crisis on the United States and what he said is U.S.-backed opposition trying to drive him from power.

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US Rejects European Requests For Relief On Iranian Sanctions

The United States has reportedly rejected requests from European allies that are seeking exemptions from U.S. sanctions imposed on countries doing business in Iran. 

According to diplomats and other officials, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin wrote a letter to Britain, France and Germany saying the U.S. would not provide widespread protection from sanctions to countries doing business in Iran. 

Pompeo and Mnuchin said in their letter, first reported by NBC News, that they are seeking “to provide unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime.” 

The U.S. did add, however, that it would grant limited exceptions, based on national security or humanitarian grounds. The letter came in response to a request last month from Britain, France and Germany.

The U.S. pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal earlier this year. The deal sought to limit Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for sanctions relief. 

The U.S. said it plans to reimpose tough sanctions on Iran, beginning in early August, targeting Iran’s automotive sector, trade and gold, and other key metals. 

A second set of sanctions are set to begin in early November. Those sanctions will focus on Iran’s energy sector and petroleum related transactions and transactions with the central bank of Iran. 

The U.S. has warned other countries that they will also face sanctions if they continue to trade with sanctioned sectors of the Iranian economy. 

The Trump administration’s hard stance on Iranian sanctions is part of a growing list of contentious moves that the U.S. has engaged in with its allies. On a recent trip to Europe, Trump complained members of the NATO alliance are not fiscally responsible. The U.S. leader also criticized British Prime Minister Theresa May’s handling of Brexit. He has also called the European Union a “foe” on trade issues.

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US Rejects European Requests For Relief On Iranian Sanctions

The United States has reportedly rejected requests from European allies that are seeking exemptions from U.S. sanctions imposed on countries doing business in Iran. 

According to diplomats and other officials, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin wrote a letter to Britain, France and Germany saying the U.S. would not provide widespread protection from sanctions to countries doing business in Iran. 

Pompeo and Mnuchin said in their letter, first reported by NBC News, that they are seeking “to provide unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime.” 

The U.S. did add, however, that it would grant limited exceptions, based on national security or humanitarian grounds. The letter came in response to a request last month from Britain, France and Germany.

The U.S. pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal earlier this year. The deal sought to limit Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for sanctions relief. 

The U.S. said it plans to reimpose tough sanctions on Iran, beginning in early August, targeting Iran’s automotive sector, trade and gold, and other key metals. 

A second set of sanctions are set to begin in early November. Those sanctions will focus on Iran’s energy sector and petroleum related transactions and transactions with the central bank of Iran. 

The U.S. has warned other countries that they will also face sanctions if they continue to trade with sanctioned sectors of the Iranian economy. 

The Trump administration’s hard stance on Iranian sanctions is part of a growing list of contentious moves that the U.S. has engaged in with its allies. On a recent trip to Europe, Trump complained members of the NATO alliance are not fiscally responsible. The U.S. leader also criticized British Prime Minister Theresa May’s handling of Brexit. He has also called the European Union a “foe” on trade issues.

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