Former PDVSA general counsel avoids prison

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A Miami federal court on 21 April sentenced Edoardo Orsoni, a former general counsel at Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA, to three years’ probation.

Orsoni is the latest to be sentenced in the US Department of Justice’s expanding investigation into corruption connected to Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA).

Orsoni, who admitted to accepting bribes in exchange for approving favourable contracts, was charged in March 2020 and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the US in August. He cooperated with Miami federal prosecutors’ ongoing investigation, according to court documents.

Counsel to Orsoni, Michael Diaz at Diaz Reus, said: “Short of avoiding charges altogether, we are very pleased with the outcome.”

Court documents say Orsoni and Petrocedeño’s ex-procurement chief, Lennys Rangel, took bribes from a contractor in exchange for business. Petrocedeño is a joint venture between majority partner PDVSA and minority partners Total, a French oil company, and Equinor, a Norwegian oil business.

Rangel, who also pleaded guilty, was sentenced in March to just under two years in prison for her role in the bribery scheme.

In a motion to reduce Orsoni’s sentence, prosecutors said he provided “substantial assistance” to the government investigation and prosecution of others. Prosecutors said they would provide the court with more information about the cooperation separately “in light of sensitivities” regarding the assistance.

One day before Orsoni’s sentencing, another defendant in the scheme, Carlos Enrique Urbano Fermín, pleaded guilty over bribes he paid a senior Venezuelan prosecutor to stymie criminal charges against his companies. He is scheduled to be sentenced on 3 September.

Contractor Leonardo Santilli, who was indicted around the same time as Orsoni and Urbano, was accused by US prosecutors of corruptly obtaining inflated contracts with a string of PDVSA joint ventures. But the DOJ dismissed its case against Santilli after he was shot dead by a motorcyclist in Venezuela in September.