Venezuela

Venezuelan TV mogul with U.S. real estate fortune charged in South Florida

Venezuelan media mogul Raul Gorrín shakes hands with Vice President Mike Pence last year.
Venezuelan media mogul Raul Gorrín shakes hands with Vice President Mike Pence last year. Miami Herald file

A Venezuelan TV network mogul and a former national treasurer are accused of collaborating in a massive money-laundering racket to drain more than $1 billion from Venezuela’s government and wash the illicit money through U.S. banks and luxury real estate investments, according to criminal charges unsealed this week.

The indictment charges Raúl Gorrín, a politically connected Caracas businessman, with conspiring to bribe Venezuelan officials and commit money laundering by hiding the embezzled government funds in South Florida and New York over the past decade.

The international money-laundering scheme allegedly led by Gorrín was carried out during a period of extreme economic hardship for everyday Venezuelans, who have struggled to afford basic necessities such as housing and food under the socialist government of the current and past presidents.

Federal authorities plan to seize Gorrín’s Cocoplum estate in Coral Gables, which has been on the market for $8 million. The waterfront home is among dozens of his properties in South Florida and New York that are tainted by criminal activity, including a Manhattan apartment worth close to $20 million, authorities said.

Gorrín’s defense attorney, Howard Srebnick, could not be reached for comment. In previous interviews, Srebnick has denied his client committed any wrongdoing.

The U.S. investigation of Gorrín initially focused on Alejandro Andrade, the former Venezuelan treasurer who had worked as a bodyguard for the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Gorrín, 50, is accused of conspiring with Andrade, 54, although Andrade is not identified by name in the wealthy businessman’s indictment. Gorrín’s indictment was originally filed under seal in August and unsealed on Monday by federal prosecutors Vanessa Snyder and Michael Nadler.

The South Florida probe of Andrade was first reported by the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald in March. Andrade, who served as national treasurer between 2007 and 2010, was charged with conspiring to commit money laundering in late 2017. He pleaded guilty in December and awaits sentencing on Tuesday as he cooperates with federal authorities in the widening investigation. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

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Alejandro Andrade was the national treasurer during the administration of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Herald Archives

Andrade’s criminal case was unsealed on Tuesday. His defense attorney, Curtis Miner, did not respond to requests for comment.

Andrade was staying at his equestrian ranch in the affluent Wellington community of Palm Beach County while assisting authorities in the massive foreign corruption and money-laundering probe. But last week, federal agents seized his Wellington properties, including 17 prized show horses, as part of a forfeiture action.

The horses, with names like Bonjovi, Hardrock Z and Tinker Bell, were imported from various parts of Europe, court records show. Andrade’s son, Emanuel, used them to compete in show-jumping events in South Florida and other parts of the world.

Federal agents also seized Andrade’s fleet of luxury vehicles, from a 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS 550 to a 2015 Bentley Continental Convertible, along with numerous U.S. and Swiss bank accounts, and a vast collection of high-end watches.

The criminal case against Andrade — including his name as a defendant — had been sealed in January by U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg in West Palm Beach for his protection while he cooperated with federal prosecutors and Homeland Security Investigations agents in their probe of Gorrín and others, court records show.

Rosenberg noted in her sealing order that “disclosure of the defendant’s name and the existence of these filed charges could present a clear and present danger to the defendant and his relatives.”

Andrade, Gorrín and other associates in Venezuela’s government, banking and business sectors are accused of enriching themselves by capitalizing on favorable foreign currency exchanges and concealing their huge profits in European and U.S. bank accounts and investments, according to Gorrín’s indictment. Andrade used his official position to give Gorrín access to the government’s preferred exchange rates to maximize profits on their currency transactions.

Gorrín is accused of paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to Andrade and another former senior official in the national treasury office by funneling the money to them through a Venezuelan banker in the Dominican Republic. The banker, Gabriel Arturo Jimenez Aray, 50, controlled the Dominican bank with Gorrín.

Jimenez was charged with a conspiracy to commit money laundering earlier this year, pleaded guilty in March and awaits sentencing on Thursday as he cooperates with federal authorities. He faces up to 10 years in prison. His defense attorney, Marissel Descalzo, declined to comment.

In addition to wiring millions through Swiss and U.S. banks to those two former high-ranking Venezuelan treasury officials, Gorrín paid for an array of lavish expenses for Andrade, including three jets, a yacht, champion show horses and high-end watches, according to Gorrín’s indictment and other court records. He even paid some of Andrade’s veterinarian bills.

Gorrín’s indictment and the cases against Andrade and Jimenez are unrelated to a $1.2 billion South Florida money-laundering case filed in July that charged nine defendants, including some close to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, with embezzling vast sums of money from the country’s national oil company and washing it through foreign currency exchanges to magnify profits. Millions in ill-gotten funds were invested in South Florida’s real estate market, including luxury high-rise condos.

Two defendants in that case — Gorrín’s personal banker Matthias Krull and former Venezuelan national oil-company executive Abraham Ortega — have pleaded guilty to money-laundering conspiracy charges and are cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Homeland Security Investigations.

Gorrín, owner of the Globovisión network in Caracas, has not been charged in that case. He 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 Maduro and other members of Venezuela’s politically connected elite, according to court records and multiple sources familiar with the federal probe in Miami. Maduro’s stepsons and the president himself are also under investigation in that case.

Gorrín came from humble origins in Venezuela. He became a lawyer but eventually evolved into a successful businessman. He gained control of insurance company Aseguradora La Vitalicia, which he acquired in 2008 with partners Juan Domingo Cordero and Gustavo Perdomo. They also joined him in the purchase of Globovisión five years later.

In late 2017, Gorrín tried to broker an exit strategy with the Trump administration for Venezuela’s beleaguered government, according to various Washington sources, by peddling the idea that Maduro and other key government leaders might be willing to negotiate a transition in Venezuela in exchange for amnesty. Gorrín met Vice President Mike Pence and was seeking a meeting with President Donald Trump at the time, the sources said.

Also last year, Gorrín retained Ballard Partners — Trump’s former Florida lobbyist — at a cost of $50,000 a month to help his Venezuelan TV network expand into U.S. markets.

However, that relationship abruptly ended. A Ballard spokesperson told the Miami Herald that the firm terminated its representation of Globovisión, citing concerns about a Miami Herald story in late July reporting that the media mogul was suspected of participating in a massive money-laundering racket.

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