U.S. probe of Venezuelan state oil firm spurs more guilty pleas

(Reuters) – Two U.S.-based energy executives pleaded guilty yesterday to U.S. charges stemming from a scheme to corruptly secure contracts by bribing officials from Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA.

A former general manager of a Florida-based energy company, Juan Jose Hernandez Comerma, 51, and an owner of several Texas-based energy companies, Charles Quintard Beech, 46, each pleaded guilty in federal court in Houston to conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement.

They were the latest to plead guilty as part of a broader ongoing probe into bribery at PDVSA. Their sentencing is scheduled for July 14, 2017.

Hernandez was accused of conspiring with two other U.S.-based businessmen, Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas and Roberto Rincon, in a scheme to win contracts from PDVSA.

Prosecutors said Hernandez, who was a general manager and later a partial owner of one of Shiera’s companies, gave travel and entertainment perks to PDVSA officials including Alfonzo Gravina from 2008 to 2012.

Beech also admitted to paying bribes to Gravina and other PDVSA officials in 2011 and 2012 to position his company on panels to win bids for contracts and to help collect payments from PDVSA, the Justice Department said.

“Mr. Beech has accepted his responsibility and is ready to get this matter behind him and move on,” his attorney, Philip Hilder, said in an email. PDVSA and attorneys for Hernandez did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Shiera, Rincon and Gravina are among the eight individuals who have so far pleaded guilty in the case.

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