One of Venezuela president Nicolas Maduro's recurring laments is that he has chronically had to deal with corrupt insubordinates (whom he has no problem throwing in prison) who tend to steal ungodly sums of money from him. And, at least in one case, he may be right.
On Thursday, Swiss bank Julius Baer announced it had started a probe after the arrest of an ex-employee who has admitted to participating in a billion-dollar scheme to launder money stolen from Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA.
Chief Executive Officer Bernhard Hodler made the announcement in Zurich on Thursday, stating only that the private bank is not being charged and declining to comment further. The revelation came after Matthias Krull, 44, a German resident in Panama, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to Bloomberg. Krull was arrested in July and charged with using real estate and fake investment schemes to conceal $1.2 billion embezzled from the Venezuela's state-owned oil producer Petroleos de Venezuela SA. More from Bloomberg:
Authorities in the U.S. and Switzerland are probing how billions of dollars were embezzled from PDVSA, as the oil company is formally known. Switzerland in 2016 seized $118 million in bank assets linked to a Venezuelan businessman who has admitted to bribing PDVSA officials to steer about $1 billion in energy-supply contracts.
So yes, at least this one time, Meduro's minions were certainly robbing him blind.
Krull, a senior relationship manager at Julius Baer based in Panama at the time of the alleged money laundering, faces as much as 10 years at sentencing, and has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
It is possible that Krull was part of a much larger ring providing money laundering services to local oligarchs: Baer, Switzerland's third biggest bank, said in June that some bankers had left amid a strategic realignment of Baer’s Latin American unit, and included Krull, Bloomberg reported at the time.
Krull was one of five senior Julius Baer bankers in the Bahamas and Panama that were set to join smaller Swiss rival Gonet & Cie. Marc Sulser, who oversaw the business with wealthy clients in the Andean region and central America for Julius Baer, also recently left the company.
So far Switzerland has not implemented the kind of draconian crackdown against Venezuela cash like what it launched against Russian depositors as a result of the recent US sanctions against Moscow: as we reported yesterday, Credit Suisse - the second largest Swiss bank - reported on Thursday that it had frozen $5 billion in Russian money. According to Reuters, Julius Baer said they also respected international sanctions, but declined to say whether they had taken similar steps.