Ecuador en las Noticias

Miami financial advisor gets 3-1/2 years for bribing PetroEcuador officials

18/12/2019 Miami Herald - Jay Weaver

A Miami financial advisor was sentenced to three and a half years in prison Wednesday for paying bribes through the U.S. banking system to officials in Ecuador’s national oil company.

Foto: Miami Herald Foto: Miami Herald

Foto: Miami Herald

A Miami financial advisor was sentenced to three and a half years in prison Wednesday for paying bribes through the U.S. banking system to officials in Ecuador’s national oil company.

Frank Roberto Chatburn Ripalda also funneled kickbacks to one PetroEcuador official that were paid by the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, federal prosecutors said.

Chatburn, who has American and Ecuadorian citizenship, apologized to U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke before she punished him for using the U.S. financial system to launder money to promote foreign bribery schemes and hide the illegal payments to government officials in Ecuador.

Chatburn, who pleaded guilty to a money-laundering conspiracy charge in October on the eve of his trial, paid millions of dollars as kickbacks to PetroEcuador officials in exchange for contracts with the state oil company between 2013 and 2018, according to federal prosecutors in Miami and Washington, D.C.

Chatburn, 42, represented by defense attorneys Howard Srebnick and Jackie Perczek, faced up to 20 years in prison. The federal sentencing guidelines for his offense were seven to nine years. His lawyers argued for significantly less time.

Chatburn, who is cooperating with U.S. authorities, must surrender to the federal Bureau of Prisons in February. Cooke, the judge, plans to hold a forfeiture hearing by then.

Chatburn is now among 10 defendants, including Ecuadorian officials, oil-services contractors, and financial advisors, who have pleaded guilty to criminal charges in Miami and other U.S. courts for their roles in the PetroEcuador bribery and money-laundering racket.

In Chatburn’s plea agreement, he admitted conspiring with an oil-company contractor, Argentinian businessman Ramiro Andres Luque Flores, to pay about $3 million in bribes to Ecuadorian officials in an effort to obtain and retain contracts with PetroEcuador. Luque, who was charged in federal court in New York, had several PetroEcuador contracts for hazardous-waste-disposal services valued at $38 million, according to court records.

“As a financial advisor to the contractor, Chatburn agreed to make bribe payments for the benefit of several then-PetroEcuador officials through the use of shell companies and bank accounts in the United States, Panama, the Cayman Islands, Curacao and Switzerland,” prosecutors said in a news release. “To conceal the bribe payments and to promote the scheme, Chatburn established Panamanian shell companies with Swiss bank accounts on behalf of two then-PetroEcuador officials.”

Chatburn was assisted in the bribery operation in Miami by Jose Larrea, who pleaded guilty to a money-laundering conspiracy charge last year and was sentenced to a little more than two years in prison. Larrea helped wire about $1 million of the total bribery payments through the U.S. banking system, according to court records.

The Justice Department’s case against Chatburn and the others followed Odebrecht’s guilty plea in late 2016 to conspiring to violate U.S. anti-bribery laws involving a vast scheme to pay nearly $800 million to public officials in 12 foreign countries where the Brazilian company has built projects. Among them: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, and Venezuela.

According to a statement filed with his plea agreement, Chatburn concealed bribes paid to an Ecuadorian official by Odebrecht through several shell companies and bank accounts in multiple places, including the United States. Chatburn acknowledged that he conspired with the Ecuadorian official to hide bribe payments intended for the official from Odebrecht between 2013 and 2015. The series of kickbacks, court records show, totaled more than $1 million.

In June, the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald, along with parent company McClatchy, published a series of stories showing how Odebrecht set up a “bribery division” in a Miami office to funnel kickbacks to foreign government officials to obtain and keep multimillion-dollar construction projects.

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Edición No.34 / Mayo 2024

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