A lawsuit filed in Miami accuses the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly of receiving at least $50 million in bribes from a company doing business in that country.
The lawsuit, filed against Derwick Associates Corporation, Derwick Associates USA, and their owners, alleges that tens of millions of dollars were paid under the table to high-ranking Venezuelan officials in exchange for their acceptance of overpriced invoices from the companies.
Derwick Associates, in charge of several electrical projects in Venezuela, maintain that the accusations are absolutely false.
The lawsuit, filed by journalist and activist Thor Halvorssen Mendoza, said the accusations against Derwick and Venezuelan officials came from former company employees familiar with the operations.
“The illicit activities of the accused have been personally confirmed by one or more former employees of Derwick,” according to one of the documents.
“One or more former employees have confirmed that Derwick offered bribes of at least tens of millions of dollars to one or more Venezuelan officials, including a payment of $50 million to Diosdado Cabello-Rondon,” president of the National Assembly, according to court documents.
The money was in exchange for lucrative public contracts that the officials knew presented the opportunity for overpricing, the documents said.
The payments were made to Banesco in Panama so that Venezuelan authorities would overlook overpriced invoices, the documents say.
Joe DeMaria, the companies’ attorney, said Halvorssen’s allegations are absolutely false.
“My clients build power plants. They supply electricity to millions of Venezuelans,” DeMaria, of the firm Tew-Cardenas, said in an email.
Halvorssen sued Derwick and its owners — Leopoldo Betancourt, Pedro Trebbau and Francisco D’Agostino — accusing them of damaging his reputation after they sent letters to Forbes.com and the Huffington Post website questioning his integrity and professionalism, according to court documents.
DeMaria calls Halvorssen “a conceited blogger who hides behind his so-called Human Rights Foundation.”
“His business tactic, like many other bloggers of bad reputation, is threatening to sue successful businessmen,” DeMaria added. “My clients refuse to be intimidated by threats. And now he alleges that my clients harmed his business by defending themselves from his threats.”
The payment of bribes to high-ranking government officials has become common practice in Venezuela, according to Transparency International, an NGO that ranks Venezuela as the most corrupt country in the hemisphere, second only to Haiti.
And Cabello, one of the most influential officials in the Nicolás Maduro administration, has been accused more than once of being involved in kickbacks.
According to reports by the U.S. embassy in Caracas, made public in 2012 by WikiLeaks, Cabello is the central figure of “one of the three main centers of corruption” close to or inside the government.