A major Thai asphalt company has been implicated for money laundering in a criminal complaint against a Miami businessman accused of violating U.S. sanctions for doing maintenance work on Venezuela’s fleet of Russian fighter jets.
By AP – Joshua Goodman
Aug 17, 2021
Jorge Nobrega was arrested Sunday at Miami’s international airport, according to his attorney, Francisco Alfonso Marty, who said it was premature to comment further.
A criminal complaint and affidavit filed Monday in Miami federal court allege that Nobrega’s company, Achabal Technologies, sold to Venezuela’s military a suppressant foam to insulate fuel tanks on its Sukhoi combat aircraft from exploding under enemy gunfire.
In a recorded meeting with an unidentified informant, Nobrega allegedly bragged about meeting with Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López and likened the technique to a form of “dialysis” that would save Venezuela the expense of sending the fleet in Russia foro servicing.
For his work, Nobrega’s Miami-based company allegedly was paid by Tipco Asphalt, a longtime client of Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA.
An Associated Press investigation last year revealed how Venezuela had been relying on the publicly traded Tipco to blunt the impact of U.S. sanctions. In exchange for deep discounts on crude shipments, Tipco would pay PDVSA’s obligations and deduct the amounts from what it owed the Venezuelan oil giant, according to records obtained by AP.
Tipco is not named as a defendant in the criminal complaint. But an investigator for the Department of Homeland Security, citing AP’s reporting, identified the Thai company as the “third-party money launderer” that the complaint says “collaborated” with PDVSA to move hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of Venezuela’s socialist government.
U.S. sanctions against President Nicolas Maduro’s government make it illegal for U.S. firms – and those who assist them – from doing business with PDVSA except with a license from the U.S. Treasury Department. Additionally, any export of military equipment or services requires the approval of the State Department, which Achabal didn’t have.
Documents obtained by AP show that Achabal received three payments totaling more than $3.6 million via Tipco between February 2019 and March 2020. Two other U.S.- registered vendors not affiliated with Nobrega received an additional $4.1 million in the same manner, according to the same records.
The documents – invoices, contracts, shipping records, and wire receipts – were provided to AP by a former PDVSA consultant located outside Venezuela on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.