It’s been four years since 14 employees of the Venezuela-based oil company PDVSA were arrested and charged with embezzlement and conspiring to bribe US officials in connection with a $380m plot to buy US security firm DASAN.
The defendants are all set to go on trial for a second time in Atlanta next week in a trial that is widely seen as one of the biggest – and potentially most damning – corruption cases to appear in the US.
A jury of four men and three women must decide how far back the conspiracy reached or how deeply the alleged abuses affected the operations of the company.
In a written statement the firm said the charges are false and made by Venezuela’s government to advance a broader strategy of economic and political manipulation.
The trial of Darlington Japrez, Keyvan Golouch, Alex Zubillaga and Josh Meeuwsen began on Monday and is set to end on Wednesday. All of the defendants face five federal charges ranging from bribery and conspiracy to honest services wire fraud to money laundering.
What prosecutors are saying about the PDVSA corruption trial Read more
The case centres on “Operation Jamestown”, an operation to recover $680m in embezzled funds stolen from PDVSA. The scandal has called into question the legitimacy of President Nicolás Maduro’s government and has already seen five members of his cabinet resign.
But not all observers of the case see it in the clearest terms.
“This case has nothing to do with democracy, it has nothing to do with Venezuela’s oil industry,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said on social media. “It’s bad enough that Venezuelan oil has been sold through fraudulent shell companies, but to drag hundreds of American businesspeople into the muck is disgraceful.”
According to the US indictment the group stole funds from PDVSA, where they worked as managers, auditors, treasury officials and lawyers.
Their alleged crimes ranged from providing free energy to PDVSA to granting properties in the US free of taxes on PDVSA’s behalf to paying for the testimony of corruption whistleblowers.