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U.S. charges Florida resident in alleged money laundering, bribery scheme

·1 min read

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Florida resident has been charged in an alleged scheme to bribe Venezuelan officials to obtain $250 million in contracts and launder funds, U.S. authorities said on Wednesday.

The U.S. Justice Department said U.S. permanent resident and Syrian national Naman Wakil, 59, participated in the bribery and money laundering scheme from 2010 to September 2017.

The defendant was arrested on Tuesday in Miami and made his initial appearance today before federal court, the department said.

The Justice Department said the bribery scheme related to efforts to win $250 million in contracts from Venezuela's state-owned and state-controlled oil and food companies, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) and Corporación de Abastecimiento y Servicios Agrícola (CASA).

Wakil purchased 10 apartment units in south Florida, a $3.5-million plane and a $1.5-million yacht, and also transferred funds to and from bank accounts in south Florida to launder funds related to the bribery scheme, according to the department.

Wakil faces multiple charges which include violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), conspiracy to commit money laundering and three counts of engaging in transactions involving criminally derived property.

The charges are the latest in a sprawling U.S. probe into corruption at Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, a once lucrative company whose crude output has plunged in recent years due to mismanagement and pilfering of funds, contributing to Venezuela's humanitarian crisis.

Wakil could face maximum prison sentences of up to 80 years if convicted, the Justice Department said.

Wakil's lawyer Stephen Binhak declined to comment on the case.

(Reporting by Doyinsola Oladipo; editing by Richard Pullin)

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