U.S. Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey is asking the Department of Justice if a former Miami Congressman David Rivera was registered as a foreign government agent when he allegedly accepted work on behalf of the Maduro regime in Venezuela.
Under U.S. law, persons or companies who are paid by a foreign government for consulting or public relations services must register their activity under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
Rivera is alleged to have signed a consulting contract in 2017 with Petróleos de Venezuela, (PDVSA) the state-run oil and gas company, which was sanctioned by the Trump administration last year.
“When foreign agents fail to register under FARA, their activities on behalf of foreign powers are hidden from public view, obscuring potential threats to U.S. national security,” wrote Menendez.
“The Maduro regime’s involvement in drug trafficking, crimes against humanity, and the expansive humanitarian crisis in Venezuela poses significant threats to U.S. national security interests and regional stability in Latin America and the Caribbean," according to the letter sent to Assistant Attorney General, John Demers on Monday.
"If the U.S. Government is to be taken seriously in our efforts to defend and protect the Venezuelan people from the tyranny of the Maduro regime, the last thing we should tolerate is a former member of Congress potentially violating U.S. laws as he does the regime’s dirty work in the United States,” he added.
Last week, Rivera was accused in New York civil court for breaching a $50 million contract to boost the reputation in the United States of Venezuela's official oil company PDVSA.
Rivera, who allegedly received $15 million as a down payment on the contract, maintains that he did not associate with congressmen or try to influence any U.S. officials, claiming that all the money was delivered to the political opposition in Venezuela, with the knowledge of the Department of State.
The hiring of Rivera by PDVSA is especially surprising given the Cuban American politician’s record as an outspoken anti-communist who was a one-time ally of influential Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
Rivera’s congressional career ended in disgrace after he was linked to an election fraud scandal in 2012. He ran for the Florida House of Representatives in 2016 but lost and has since largely disappeared from public view.
In the past, the Justice Department has brought criminal charges against individuals who failed to register as foreign agents, in violation of the FARA law which was enacted during World War II to counter international espionage.
Under the law, individuals or entities that represent the political interests of another country, such a public relations and consulting, must report their activities and finances.
"The Act is clear that acting directly or indirectly in any capacity on behalf of a foreign principal triggers the requirement to register under FARA," wrote Menendez.
There are some exceptions to FARA for lawyers, educators, and religious organizations, for example, who are paid by foreign governments.
According to the lawsuit, Rivera's Miami-based company Interamerican Consulting Incorporated agreed in 2017 to provide strategic consulting services to formulate a plan to improve PVDSA's reputation among politicians, opinion leaders and public officials in the United States.
Interamerican Consulting received $15 million from PDDV USA, a subsidiary of PDVSA. The payments were subject to the preparation of fortnightly reports by Rivera. The plaintiffs claim that Rivera's firm only delivered two reports on five pages, prompting th PDVSA subsidiary to suspend the remaining payments. Rivera allegedly demanded that he be paid in full.
The lawsuit is not being brought by Maduro but rather by the government of Juan Guaidó, who the United States now recognizes as the only legitimate president of Venezuela. As such, Guaidó now controls PDVSA's assets in the United States.
Rivera told Univision Channel 23 that he did "zero lobbying" and received "zero payments." Rivera assured Univision Channel 23 that Rubio, one of the most fervent critics of the Venezuelan regime, was unaware of the agreement with the PDVSA affiliate. Rubio had said that he learned of the issue via the media. If true, he added "it would be deeply disappointing news."
Rivera also told Univision that "100%" of the funds he received went to "the leadership of the Venezuelan opposition."
He also said that the Trump administration, including the State Department, “were aware of everything.”
"This was an operation led by the political prisoners of Citgo 6," he said, referring to six employees of the PDVSA gas retail affiliate in the United States who are currently detained in Venezuela.
"Lepoldo López also participated to finance activities against the Maduro regime, including the protests of the summer of 2017," he added, referring to the prominent opposition leader who sought refuge last year in the Spanish embassy in Caracas after a failed attempt to overthrow Maduro.
Rivera has not explained how PDVSA could have bizarrely ended up financing an operation against the Maduro regime.