MIAMI -- A former Venezuelan attorney general has been implicated in a major U.S. corruption case accusing a one-time oil contractor of using South Florida banks to funnel bribes to her to block criminal charges against his companies in Venezuela.
Although the former high-ranking official is not named in a Miami criminal case, sources familiar with the U.S. investigation say Luisa Ortega Diaz is "Venezuela Official 1" in a charging document and is suspected of accepting bribes from Carlos Enrique Urbano Fermin. His companies did business with subsidiaries of the national oil company, PDVSA, and were under investigation for allegedly paying kickbacks to government officials in exchange for lucrative contracts.
Urbano Fermin is charged with participating in a money-laundering conspiracy in Miami federal court. He is accused of using an "intermediary" lawyer who was close to Ortega to pay her one bribe totaling $100,000 through U.S. banks in 2017, including the intermediary's account at a Coral Gables bank, court records show.
Urbano Fermin was charged in March by "information," not by indictment, a tell-tale sign that he is cooperating with federal prosecutors in the widening corruption case that sources say puts Ortega in the cross-hairs of the bribery and money-laundering probe by Homeland Security Investigations.
The Venezuelan contractor has not yet appeared in Miami federal court, nor does the court record indicate he has a defense attorney. The U.S. attorney's office, which has brought numerous money-laundering cases against former and current Venezuelan officials and their politically connected associates, declined to comment for this story.
Ortega, who lives in Colombia after distancing herself from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, is considered the legitimate attorney general by Juan Guaido, the National Assembly leader who is recognized by the Trump administration and 60 other nations as the true president of Venezuela.
Ortega denied the bribery allegations in a video broadcast Wednesday night via her Twitter account.
Ortega blamed the U.S. case against Urbano Fermin on a "vile" extortion operation mounted by current Venezuela Attorney General Tarek William Saab. She said that Urbano Fermin is making false accusations against her because his brother is being held in a Venezuelan prison by the Maduro regime.
"The mere fact that ... he appears in the United States making (bribery) allegations against me is a key indication that he is coerced by the Venezuelan regime," she said in the video.
In a subsequent interview with el Nuevo Herald, Ortega reiterated her extortion claim, saying that Urbano Fermin is framing her to curry favor with the Maduro regime and spare his brother from prison in Venezuela.
"I believe in American justice, which is very responsible and serious," Ortega said. "But I also think that you should verify the veracity of the testimony of the witness (in) this case. They should check if he has a brother in prison in Venezuela, because perjury in the United States is a very serious crime."
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