A court in the United States has sentenced the former head of Venezuela’s treasury, Alejandro Andrade, to 10 years in prison for money laundering.
Andrade, 54, had pleaded guilty to taking $1bn in bribes in exchange for offering access to preferential foreign currency exchange rates.
He has been living in Florida, where he owned jets, mansions, 17 show-jumping horses and a fleet of luxury vehicles.
He will be jailed on 25 February.
His sentencing comes as Venezuela is in a crushing financial crisis which has led to three million Venezuelans leaving the country, according to figures released by he United Nation’s Migration Agency.
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Andrade was a bodyguard to the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez before being named head of Venezuela’s treasury, a position he held from 2007 to January 2011.
In addition, he was named head of Venezuela’s state-owned Economic and Social Development Bank in 2008, making him one of the most powerful people in Venezuela’s financial world.
Venezuelan media have speculated whether the former lieutenant’s meteoric career was partly the result of to feelings of guilt on the part of President Chávez after he damaged Andrade’s eye in a game of “chapita”. The game, which resembles baseball, involves one person throwing the metal cap of a bottle at another, who tries to hit it with a stick.
Court records show how Andrade took advantage of strict currency controls introduced by President Chávez and used his position to “sell” access to preferential exchange rates.
He allowed his co-conspirators to buy dollars from Venezuela’s treasury at a fixed low rate normally reserved for the purchase of key goods such as medicines, only for them to then sell the dollars at a huge profit on the black market.
In exchange, he received bribes worth $1bn in the form of a mansion in Wellington, Florida, horses for his son’s Olympic equestrian ambitions and Rolex watches.
Under his plea deal, federal agents have seized 10 cars, including a Bentley, three Mercedes-Benz and a Porsche, 17 horses and the contents of nine bank accounts.
The US attorney’s office alleges that a large part of the bribes came from Raúl Gorrín, a Venezuelan media mogul who has been charged with money laundering by the US authorities. The indictment was unsealed last week.
Mr Gorrín bought opposition TV channel Globovisión in 2003 after which the channel’s line softened considerably with him at the helm.
Like Andrade, Mr Gorrín has been living in Florida and, according to his indictment, has been using banks in the US to launder money.
According to court documents, Mr Gorrín is considered to be a fugitive.