Former Citgo executive pleads guilty to accepting $7 million in bribes

Marcy de Luna, Houston Chronicle
March 23, 2021
A former Citgo official is the latest person to plead guilty in the federal investigation of bribery at Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. PDVSA, the state-run oil company that owns Houston-based Citgo.

Jose Luis De Jongh Atencio, 48, pleaded guilty Monday to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering after accepting millions of dollars in bribes, the Justice Department said on Monday. De Jongh was indicted by a federal grand jury in July.

While working as a procurement officer and manager of the special projects group at Citgo, De Jongh accepted more than $7 million in bribes in exchange for helping individuals and companies win contracts with Citgo from 2013 to 2019, the government said. Payments to De Jongh also included tickets to a 2014 World Series Game, Super Bowl XLIX in 2015, and a U2 concert, according to the release, the Justice Department said.

De Jongh, who has citizenship in the U.S. and Venezuela, admitted to depositing the payments into bank accounts of shell companies he controlled in Panama and Switzerland, the government said. In some instances, he also oversaw the creation of fake invoices to justify the payments, court documents said. He laundered the proceeds through U.S. and international bank accounts and used the funds to buy real estate in the Houston area, the Justice Department said.

As part of his plea, De Jongh agreed to forfeit more than $3 million seized from his bank accounts and 15 properties he bought.

De Jongh faces up to 20 years in prison and will be sentenced in August.

The PDVSA bribery probe has resulted in charges against 28 people and brought 22 guilty pleas, the government said. PDVSA acquired sole ownership of Citgo in 1990 and moved its headquarters to Houston from Tulsa, Okla., in 2004. Six Citgo executives based in Houston were lured back to Venezuela for meetings in 2017 and were sentenced in November to more than eight years in prison after a judge found them guilty of corruption.

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