Puebla, Mexico, March 24, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – At least five people in the United States have now pleaded guilty to charges linked to a bribery scandal centred around Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA, according to reports Wednesday.
The latest guilty pleas were made public by the Associated Press, which cited prosecutors as stating PDVSA procurement officials have been accused of accepting bribes in exchange for contracts.
The case first became public Tuesday, when court documents from December 2015 were unsealed.
Three of those charged are former PDVSA officials, according to the documents as seen by Reuters.
The documents reportedly stated the three former officials were all found guilty of conspiracy to commit money laundering. The former officials were named as Jose Luis Ramos Castillo, Christian Javier Maldonado Barillas and Alfonzo Eliezer Gravina Munoz.
Businessperson Abraham Shiera and one of his former employees have also pleaded guilty, according to the Associated Press.
Shiera is the owner of two Venezuelan based industrial equipment firms. He has been accused by US prosecutors of bribing PDVSA officials to secure business contracts between 2009 and 2014.
Another Venezuelan businessperson, Roberto Rincon is facing similar charges in the US. He is scheduled to face court next month.
The bribery scandal comes as US authorities are deepening a series of investigations into allegations of misconduct at PDVSA, according to the Wall Street Journal.
PDVSA and the Venezuelan government are yet to respond to the latest revelations, though in the past President Nicolas Maduro has accused the US of seeking to undermine the oil firm.
In November 2015, a joint investigation by The Intercept and Venezuela's teleSUR revealed the US National Security Agency (NSA) had been spying on PDVSA. Documents obtained by the news agencies from US whistleblower Edward Snowden showed the NSA had been using agents posing as diplomats to snoop on senior PDVSA officials from the US embassy in Caracas.
At the time, Maduro responded to the revelations by accusing the US government of seeking to destabilise Venezuela.
PDVSA is a major source of revenue for the Venezuelan government, which is currently struggling with an economic downturn.