May 20, 2024

Argentinian national pleads guilty to money laundering conspiracy linked to Venezuelan government officials

On May 14, 2024, Argentinian national Luis Fernando Vuteff pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy in the Southern District of Florida in connection with his role in an alleged $1.2 billion money laundering scheme designed to launder funds illicitly obtained from Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company, Petróleos de Venezuela SA (“PDVSA”).  Vuteff is currently scheduled to be sentenced on August 1, 2024.

In connection with his plea agreement, Vuteff admitted that, from approximately 2006 to 2018, he contracted with co-defendant Ralph Steinmann, who owned and operated a “European financial institution” with offices in South America.  According to the plea agreement, from approximately 2012 until 2018, Vuteff and Steinmann, acting on behalf of the “European financial institution,” laundered the proceeds of a scheme based on a loan contract with PDVSA.  The loan agreement, obtained through bribes and kickbacks, exploited Venezuela’s fixed foreign currency exchange rate, which set the value of Venezuelan bolivars at an artificially high value as compared to the open market.  Under the loan agreement, the lender was entitled to payment in euros equivalent to about $600 million, while the amount lent to PDVSA was worth around $50 million (the approximate value of 7.2 billion Venezuelan bolivars based on the open market exchange rate).

Thus, the conspirators received approximately $550 million in profits, a significant portion of which was used to bribe Carmelo Antonio Urdaneta Aqui, the former Legal Counsel for the Venezuelan Ministry of Oil and Mines, and Alvaro Ledo Nass, the former PDVSA General Counsel, according to the plea agreement. Vuteff helped launder the illicit profits, including through banks based in South Florida.

Vuteff and Steinmann were indicted for their roles in the alleged corrupt foreign currency exchange scheme in July 2022.  Steinmann remains a fugitive.  In July 2021, Urdaneta pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering.  In June 2022, he was sentenced to over four years in prison.  Nass pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering in March 2023.  He was sentenced to three years in prison in June 2023.

Factual Proffer | Plea Agreement | Superseding Information | Department of Justice Press Release – July 2022 | Indictment