South Florida

Banker in middle of $1.2 billion Venezuelan money-laundering ring sentenced to 10 years

An international banker who catered to mega-rich Venezuelans was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a Miami federal judge Monday for his supporting role in a massive $1.2 billion money-laundering scheme involving stolen funds from Venezuela’s government.

Matthias Krull, 45, apologized profusely to U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga before she imposed the maximum sentence for his guilty plea to a conspiracy conviction. But Altonaga also said she expected to see the banker in court again when federal prosecutors will likely recommend a sentence reduction for his assistance in the sprawling money-laundering case.

Krull, the German-born son of a Lutheran pastor who was raised in Venezuela and educated in Switzerland, was living the life of a Swiss banker and family man based in Panama when he and eight others were charged in July with conspiring to steal millions from Venezuela’s vast oil income. U.S. authorities say the stolen funds were washed through the Venezuelan government’s currency exchange to increase their value astronomically before being transferred to a European bank and invested in Miami-area luxury real estate and other assets.

Altonaga noted Krull’s double personality before sentencing him and ordering the banker to pay a $600,000 forfeiture and a $50,000 fine.

“I know I have before me a man who has led a righteous and honorable life for the better part of his life,” Altonaga said, before summarizing his fall from grace in the middle of the money-laundering conspiracy. “Those actions seem to be at odds with the person here before me. It’s like we’re dealing with two different people.”

Krull, who was arrested in Miami and became the first defendant to cooperate with Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the widening investigation, remains free on a $5 million bond and is staying in a Brickell area condo. He pleaded guilty in August in a deal struck between his defense attorney, Oscar S. Rodriguez, and prosecutor Michael Nadler, who recommended Krull’s 10-year prison term and indicated that it was premature to go forward with his sentence reduction.

As required in his plea agreement, Krull started providing evidence about the Venezuelan-based money laundering ring — including inside information about Venezuelan media mogul Raúl Gorrín, owner of the Globovisión network in Caracas, according to multiple sources familiar with the investigation.

Gorrín is suspected of steering $600 million from the country’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA, to a European bank to enrich himself, the three stepsons of President Nicolás Maduro and other members of Venezuela’s politically connected elite, according to new court records and multiple sources.

An international banker who catered to mega-rich Venezuelans was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a Miami federal judge Monday for his supporting role in a massive $1.2 billion money-laundering scheme involving stolen funds from Venezuela’s government. Others charged and suspected in the scheme have ties to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, shown here before delivering his annual message to the nation in Caracas on Jan. 21, 2015. FEDERICO PARRA AFP/Getty Images

Identified only as “Conspirator 7” in court records, Gorrín collaborated with Krull, his personal banker, to make the massive wire transfer two years ago, sources say.

Krull, described as a “door opener” for wealthy Venezuelans seeking access to foreign banks, promised to assist prosecutors in their broadening case investigating Gorrín, Maduro, his stepsons and other Venezuelans. Krull has provided eyewitness details of his meetings with Gorrín at the tycoon’s office in Caracas and at his condo on exclusive Fisher Island overlooking Biscayne Bay, in which they discussed the transfer of embezzled oil funds to the European bank, according to a statement filed with Krull’s plea.

During the meetings in Caracas, Krull met with the president’s stepsons and a Venezuelan businessman whom Gorrín introduced to the banker as the “straw” representative for Maduro’s grown stepchildren from his marriage to Cilia Flores, the statement said. During one meeting, Gorrín boasted about his relationship with the presidential family, telling Krull that the stepsons help him “by intervening with their mother” whenever the media magnate needs to “solve issues” with the president, the statement said, without identifying Maduro or the stepsons by name.

The straw representative, Mario Enrique Bonilla Vallera, now a defendant in the Miami federal case, is accused of receiving $200 million in the European bank account for the benefit of Maduro’s stepsons. Gorrín is suspected of routing that money to the stepsons, while transferring $80 million to an account for himself in the same European bank, Krull’s statement said. An additional $265 million was wired to the account of the lead money-laundering defendant, Francisco Convit Guruceaga, a Venezuelan billionaire businessman, and other co-conspirators.

Gorrín’s lawyer in Miami, Howard Srebnick, has denied any wrongdoing by his client, who has not been charged in the federal case. Srebnick criticized the prosecution’s strategy of flipping the banker, saying Krull is only looking to reduce his ultimate prison sentence by testifying against Gorrín as part of his plea deal.

Meanwhile, another member of the Venezuelan money-laundering network is expected to plead guilty to the same conspiracy charge as Krull at a hearing in Miami federal court on Wednesday.

Abraham Edgardo Ortega, a Venezuelan who served as the former executive director of finance at PDVSA, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A., is also cooperating with authorities, according to sources.

A third defendant, Gustavo Adolfo Hernandez Frieri, a Miami-based investment broker, was arrested in Italy in July and awaits extradition to the United States. The remaining six named defendants in the case are at large and considered fugitives.