U.S. prosecutors filed money-laundering charges Thursday against Venezuela’s former minister of electricity, Luis Motta Dominguez, and his former deputy minister of finance and investments, Eustiquio Jose Lugo Gomez.
Motta and Lugo were also sanctioned by the Treasury Department, which added them to the black list maintained by the Office of Foreign Assets Controls.
The two senior officials of the Nicolás Maduro regime, who were in charge as the nation’s electricity system began its collapse, were charged by prosecutors in the Southern District of Florida after two businessmen pleaded guilty to bribing Venezuelan government employees in the electricity sector.
The prosecutors accuse Motta and Lugo of conspiring with others to launder the bribes they received, using banks in Florida.
“Motta and Lugo granted three companies based in Florida more than $60 milllion in contracts for acquisitions by [the state-owned] Corpoelec in exchange for bribes paid to them for their own benefit,” according to the charges.
The Treasury Department said the corruption by the two men explains part of the electrical problems lashing the South American country.
“Venezuelans have suffered more than 23,860 interruptions of the electric service this year due to the corruption and bad administration by Nicolas Maduro and the people around him. The corruption contributed directly to the deterioration and collapse of the electricity system in Venezuela,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.
The Treasury sanctions bar all persons and companies from doing business with people on the black list, and essentially freeze any funds they may have under U.S. jurisdiction.
The charges against Motta and Lugo were filed after two businessmen pleaded guilty earlier this week to conspiring to violate the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act as part of their dealings with Corpoelec.
Jesus Ramon Veroes, a Venezuelan, and Luis Alberto Chacin Haddad, a Miami resident, pleaded guilty Monday before U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga to charges of participating in a conspiracy to violate several parts of the FCPA. They are scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 4.
As part of their guilty pleas, Veroes and Haddad admitted they had agreed with other co-conspirators to bribe officials at Corpoelec in exchange for purchase orders to companies based in Florida.
They also promised to turn over to U.S. officials at least $5.5 million and surrender real estate they own in the Miami area.
Motta, a major general in the National Guard, was fired by Maduro in April, after Venezuela suffered a series of power blackouts, including one that lasted almost two weeks. His tenure at Corpoelec was marked by the gradual collapse of the country’s power generating and transmission systems.
Venezuelans today live under a program of electricity rationing, with little hope for relief any time soon because the government lacks the resources required for the necessary maintenance.
Most experts say the electricity crisis in Venezuela was generated by the lack of spending on maintaining and expanding the power grid, even though the Hugo Chávez and Maduro regimes repeatedly announced that they had spent billions of dollars to guarantee electricity supplies.
Much of that money wound up in the hands of corrupt officials, the experts added.
Motta nevertheless repeatedly complained that the problems with the electricity system were the result of sabotage carried out by opponents of the Maduro government.