Former Venezuelan attorney general Luisa Ortega Díaz is allegedly implicated in a major corruption case involving a Venezuelan businessman, who this week pleaded guilty to paying a million dollar bribe before a United States court, two people apprised of the case reported on Thursday, according to the AP news agency.
The former prosecutor, now opposition leader, Luisa Ortega, is not mentioned by name in the federal case in Miami. However, when pleading guilty on Monday to a count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, businessman Carlos Urbano Fermín admitted to paying around a million dollars to a “high-ranking prosecutor” in Venezuela as “insurance” against any investigation of its huge construction contracts with state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA).
This accusation by Fermín confirms the complaint made by President Nicolás Maduro in 2017, in which he accused the then prosecutor of leading, together with his partner Germán Ferrer, a network of bribery against people on whom they filed complaints of corruption in the management of businesses related to the oil sector.
“What did the Prosecutor’s Office do?” said Maduro. “Now we know. It warned corrupt businessmen, they left the country, she charged them millions of dollars with which they opened accounts abroad.” According to the investigations, revealed Maduro, “the prosecutor’s husband (Ferrer) was in charge of collecting bribes.”
After her dismissal by the National Constituent Assembly due to these accusations, and her subsequent flight from the country, she was welcomed by the Venezuelan extreme right and the government of Colombia —the country in which she now resides—and labeled as the “legitimate attorney general.”
“Insurance policy” for corruption
At the request of President Maduro, the prosecution carried out an investigation into contracts with enterprises in the Orinoco Belt. From there Fermín was contacted in Venezuela by a lawyer close to “a high-ranking prosecutor” with the promise that he could put an end to any criminal investigation, according to Fermín’s confession.
Describing himself as an “insurance policy,” the intermediary “told the defendant that he had the ability to terminate any criminal charges,” according to the document.
According to his account, Fermín subsequently transferred about one million dollars from accounts in the United States to benefit the unidentified Venezuelan official, including a payment of $100,000 to a bank in Coral Gables, a Miami suburb.
The Venezuelan government never brought charges against Fermín’s companies while Ortega was attorney general, although his successor, Tarek William Saab, did so shortly after taking office in 2017, when he accused Fermín and two of his brothers, and arrested one of them.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Berger charged Fermín 13 months ago, but the Venezuelan was arrested this month. After pleading guilty this week, he was released on $100,000 personal bond, an indication that he has been cooperating with investigators. His sentencing is scheduled for September.
Who is Carlos Urbano Fermín?
Together with his brothers Carlos Arturo and Carlos Enrique Hernández Zamora, he is part of the Urbano Fermín business group, with a presence in the Anzoátegui state. He served as general manager of the company Constructora Urbano Fermín CA (CUFERCA) and shareholder of various contractor companies of PDVSA.
In November 2017, after the departure of Ortega Díaz, the Public Ministry accused Urbano Fermín of being part of the plot that involving embezzlement in the Orinoco Oil Belt, between 2010 and 2016.
Together with his brothers, he owns seven companies in Panama and another five in the Dominican Republic, in addition to four other companies registered in the state of Florida, in the southern United States. The latter are the ones that are the object of the US investigation.
Featured image: The former prosecutor had been accused in Venezuela of leading a network of bribes to businessmen. File photo.
Translation: Orinoco Tribune