WEST PALM BEACH - Alejandro Andrade, 54, a former Venezuelan national treasurer was sentenced to 10 years in prison Tuesday by a U.S. judge in West Palm Beach for accepting $1 billion in bribes and laundering the proceeds in Florida real estate, horses and luxury cars and watches.
Andrade, a former a bodyguard to socialist President Hugo Chávez, rose to become one of the most trusted members of his inner circle and head the National Treasury Office between 2007 and 2010. He left the country in 2010 and settled in a wealthy horse community in Palm Beach County.
Wearing a jacket and tie, Andrade read out a letter in court asking for foregiveness from his family and friends. "As Treasurer, I made very bad decisions that today I regret with all my heart," he said.
His sentencing comes as Venezuela's economy is in freefall, with shortages of food and medicines leading three million Venezuelans to flee the country, according to figures released by he United Nation's Migration Agency.
Andrade was approached in the courtroom by opposition leader Carlos Vechio, who reminded him of "the great damage you have done to Venezuela." Caught unawares, Andrade took a step back and his lawyer intervened to break up the encounter.
His lawyers declined to say where he planned to live after his assets were confiscated, including five Florida homes, 17 show horses, vehicles, including a Mercedes-Benz GLS 550, a Bentley convertible and at least 35 luxury watches.
"As part of his plea agreement, Andrade agreed to a forfeiture money judgment of $1 billion and forfeiture of all assets involved in the corrupt scheme, including real estate, vehicles, horses, watches, aircraft and bank accounts," according to the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
He will remain free on a $1 million bond until February 25 while he continues to cooperate with federal authorities investigation massive public corruption in Venezuela involving the national treasury and the state-owned oil company, PdVSA. That includes the case of Venezuelan TV magnate Raúl Gorrín, 50, who was indicted last week accused of conspiring to bribe Venezuelan officials and launder stolen public funds in South Florida and New York real estate.
Andrade, Gorrín and other Venezuelan officials are accused of corruptly exploting a foreign currency exchange program and hiding their ill-gotten gains in Swiss bank accounts and investments, according to Gorrín’s indictment. Andrade used his official position to give Gorrín access to the government’s preferred exchange rates. In Venezuela, the government controls currency exchange rates which has led to a number of corruption scandals.
Gorrín, owner of the Globovisión network in Caracas, has also been linked to a separate $1.2 billion South Florida money-laundering case filed in July that charged nine defendants, including some close to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, with embezzling vast sums of money from the country’s national oil company and washing it through foreign currency exchanges to inflate profits. Two defendants in that case, Swiss banker Matthias Krull and former Venezuelan national oil-company executive Abraham Ortega, have pleaded guilty to money-laundering conspiracy charges and are cooperating with federal investigators.
(Additional reporting by David Adams in Miami)