Venezuelan ex-electric chief among 2 indicted in US

MIAMI (AP) — Two former Venezuelan officials have been indicted on U.S. money-laundering charges, including the ex-minister for electricity, who was fired after a series of blackouts, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Luis Alfredo Motta Dominguez, 60, faces seven counts of money laundering and one count of money-laundering conspiracy, Miami U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan said in a news release.

Motta and Eustiquio Jose Lugo Gomez, 55, awarded $60 million in contracts to three Florida-based companies in return for bribes, most of which were laundered through South Florida financial institutions, prosecutors said. Lugo was procurement director at Venezuela’s state-run Corpoelec, which Motta also headed.

Also Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that sanctions have been imposed on Motta and Lugo that blocks all property and interests in property and any entities they own or control. The action would prohibit any dealings by U.S. persons that involve any of the two men’s property or property interests.

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“The illegitimate (President Nicolas) Maduro regime exploits the public trust by plundering Venezuelan assets, enriching themselves, and watching idly as basic public systems needlessly and catastrophically fail,” Mnuchin said in a statement. “Treasury will continue to target officials who exacerbate corruption at the expense of the Venezuelan people and knowingly fail to provide basic public service.”

Authorities say the two are not in U.S. custody. It wasn’t clear Thursday if they had U.S. lawyers to represent them.

The three Florida companies are Oriental Trading Corp., Search Trading and Headline, according to court documents. The contracts were for forklifts, transformers, generators and lightbulbs.

Motta, an army general, was axed as electricity minister in April by Maduro after a series of nationwide blackouts that left some parts of the country in the dark for weeks.

The government blamed the outages on the U.S., saying it sabotaged the nation’s largest dam. But experts said it was more likely caused by years of neglect compounded by seasonal wind fires that blazed across a transmission line.

Two other men involved in the plot with Motta and Lugo pleaded guilty on Monday to corruption charges, prosecutors said Thursday. Jesus Ramon Veroes, 69, of Venezuela, and 54-year-old Luis Alberto Chacin Haddad of Miami admitted conspiring to pay the bribes in exchange for the Corpoelec contracts.

In addition to maximum five-year prison sentences, they will be required to forfeit at least $5.5 million in profits from the scheme and real estate in the Miami area, prosecutors said.

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