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March 23, 2021Washington, DC, United StatesFinancial Crimes

Former Venezuelan official pleads guilty in connection with international bribery, money laundering scheme following HSI investigation

WASHINGTON – A dual U.S.-Venezuelan citizen and former official at Citgo Petroleum Corporation, a Houston-based subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), pleaded guilty Monday for his role in laundering millions of dollars in bribes and corruptly providing business advantages to multiple individuals who obtained contracts with Citgo and PDVSA.

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston is conducting the ongoing investigation with assistance from HSI Boston and HSI Miami.

Jose Luis De Jongh Atencio (De Jongh), 48, a former procurement officer and manager in Citgo’s Special Projects Group, pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

According to court documents, between approximately 2013 and 2019, De Jongh accepted more than $7 million in bribe payments from businessmen including Jose Manuel Gonzalez Testino (Gonzalez), a dual U.S.-Venezuelan citizen, and Tulio Anibal Farias Perez (Farias), a Venezuelan national and Houston resident, and others in exchange for assisting the businessmen and related companies in procuring contracts with Citgo, and providing them with other business advantages. De Jongh admitted to directing bribe payments from Gonzalez, Farias and others into bank accounts in the names of shell companies that he controlled in Panama and Switzerland. In some instances, he also directed the creation of fake invoices to justify the payments. De Jongh laundered the bribe proceeds through U.S. and international bank accounts and used the funds to purchase real property located in the Houston area. In addition to monetary payments, De Jongh also received bribes in the form of gifts and other things of value from Gonzalez, Farias and others including tickets to a 2014 World Series Game, Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 and a U2 concert. Gonzalez Testino and Farias Perez also entered guilty pleas in connection with the case.

“Jose Luis De Jongh Atencio accepted millions of dollars in bribe payments and laundered the proceeds of his corrupt scheme into the United States, using those bribes to fund a lavish lifestyle and purchase numerous properties,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Today’s guilty plea demonstrates the commitment of the department and our law enforcement partners to hold accountable individuals who engage in corruption and use our financial system to promote and launder the proceeds of their crimes.”

“Foreign bribery schemes like this pose a significant threat to the public trust and fair-trade practices,” said Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson, HSI Houston. “Today’s plea is a step in the right direction, but we will continue to level the playing field for companies and consumers by aggressively investigating individuals and corporations who violate the FCPA and misuse our financial system.”

De Jongh is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 19 and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. As part of his plea, De Jongh also agreed to forfeit more than $3 million seized from his bank accounts and 15 properties that he purchased with his corrupt proceeds.

To date, 28 individuals have been charged, 22 of whom have pleaded guilty, as part of a larger, ongoing investigation by the U.S. government into bribery at PDVSA.

Trial Attorney Sarah E. Edwards and Assistant Chief Sonali D. Patel of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert S. Johnson and John P. Pearson of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas are prosecuting the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristine E. Rollinson is handling the forfeiture aspects of the case. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the Swiss Federal Office of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General of Panama also provided assistance.

Updated: 03/23/2021