Houston, Texas - 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 in connection with his role in laundering millions of dollars in bribes and corruptly providing business advantages to multiple individuals who obtained contracts with Citgo and PDVSA.
According to court documents, between approximately 2013 and 2019, Jose Luis De Jongh Atencio (De Jongh), 48, a former procurement officer and manager in Citgo’s Special Projects Group, 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 and Farias also entered guilty pleas in connection with the case.
“Jose Luis De Jongh Atencio accepted millions of dollars in bribe payments — placing law-abiding individuals and companies at a competitive disadvantage — and then laundered those bribe payments into the United States to fund his lavish lifestyle,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “This 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 of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston. “This 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 pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller on Aug. 19, and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Judge Miller will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. In addition, as part of his plea, De Jongh also agreed to forfeit over $3 million seized from his bank accounts and 15 properties that he purchased with his corrupt proceeds.
To date, the Justice Department has announced charges against 28 individuals, 22 of whom have pleaded guilty, as part of a larger, ongoing investigation by the U.S. government into bribery at PDVSA.
HSI Houston is conducting the ongoing investigation with assistance from HSI Boston and Miami.
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.