Former PDVSA Trader Charged in US Graft Crackdown

Former PDVSA Trader Charged in US Graft Crackdown
A former PDVSA trader was charged with receiving bribes as part of an expansive investigation into traders paying for access to South American oil markets.

(Bloomberg) -- A former trader at Petroleos de Venezuela SA was charged with receiving bribes as part of an expansive investigation into traders paying for access to South American oil markets that’s also netted a former manager at Vitol Group and a Florida asphalt company.

Prosecutors in the office of acting Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Seth DuCharme disclosed that Daniel Comoretto, a former trading manager at Venezuela’s national oil company PDVSA, had been charged in a sealed complaint that accused him of conspiring to commit money laundering and receive bribes to facilitate business with PDVSA between 2011 and 2015.

And in another case that is part of a sweeping U.S. crackdown on bribe payments paid in Latin America to win business, Sargeant Marine Inc. pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe officials with national oil companies in Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil. U.S. prosecutors in Brooklyn separately announced that a former executive with Vitol paid $870,000 in bribes to Ecuadorian officials to win fuel oil contracts. Vitol owns an asphalt company called Valt, which it has fully owned since 2019 after buying out Sargeant Marine’s stake.

Prosecutors say Comoretto participated in a scheme with an unidentified PDVSA official and an intermediary acting as a consultant to solicit bribes from companies that wanted access to asphalt from Venezuela, which was once one of the biggest regional makers of the product. Companies paid the consultant a commission of 45 cents for every barrel of asphalt. The consultant, in turn, then paid PDVSA officials, including Comoretto, according to the charges. Comoretto received $229,000 in bribes.

Sargeant pleaded guilty Tuesday before a federal judge in Brooklyn to conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and was sentenced to pay a criminal fine of $16.6 million. Daniel Sargeant, a former executive and part owner of the Boca Raton, Florida-based company, also secretly pleaded guilty in July to money laundering and participating in a bribe-paying scheme in which payments were made to Brazilian government officials to win business for the company, prosecutors said. His brother, Harry Sargeant III, a Florida energy tycoon, disavowed any involvement or ownership in the company when reached for comment.

Comoretto, who was arrested in Tennessee, made an initial court appearance before a federal magistrate on Sept. 18 and was released on a $100,000 bond. Leticia Olivera, a lawyer for Comoretto, didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment about the case. PDVSA didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment.

Meanwhile, U.S. prosecutors alleged Javier Aguilar paid $870,000 to Petroecuador to obtain a $300 million fuel-oil contract. Aguilar’s former employer wasn’t identified by the U.S. in the indictment but he was employed by Rotterdam-based Vitol, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter isn’t public.

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