MIAMI (AP) – The former nurse of late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has been found guilty of money laundering in connection to bribes paid by a billionaire media mogul to green light lucrative currency transactions when she served as the country’s national treasurer.
A jury in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, deliberated for just a few hours on Tuesday before finding Claudia Diaz and her husband, Adrían Velasquez, guilty of five of the six counts detailed in a 2020 indictment accusing them of taking at least USD4.2 million in bribes.
The couple, who will be sentenced in February, face a maximum of 20 years in prison for each of the criminal counts.
The jury trial was seen as a critical test of federal prosecutors’ ability to hold accountable so-called Venezuelan kleptocrats for fleecing the oil rich nation.
The United States (US) Department of Justice has aggressivelyinvestigated corruption in Venezuela’s socialist government, taking advantage of the US unique position as the destination of choice until recently for insiders to stash their ill-gotten gains.
But Diaz was the first former senior official to actually fight charges and had she managed to walk free it could’ve drastically undermined that decade-long effort.
According to the indictment, Diaz and Velasquez received payments from companies controlled by their co-defendant, fugitive Venezuelan media mogul Raul Gorrin, to accounts in Miami allegedly used to pay for the couple’s otherwise unexplained lavish lifestyle.
The government’s case relied heavily on the testimony of one of Diaz’s predecessors as Treasurer, Alejandro Andrade, who took the witness stand to testify that the kickback scheme he struck with Gorrin continued under Diaz.
Like Diaz, Andrade, a former presidential security officer, leveraged a personal connection with Chavez to rise through the ranks of the army and the Venezuelan state, amassing a huge fortune almost overnight.