Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. ("PDVSA'') was the state-owned and state-controlled oil company in Venezuela. PDVSA was responsible for the exploration, production, refining, transportation, and trade in energy resources in Venezuela and provided funding for other operations of the Venezuelan government. PDVSA maintained several subsidiaries and joint ventures, including the following joint ventures in the oil-rich Orinoco belt of Venezuela: Petrocedeno S.A., a joint venture between Total SA of France, Equinor ASA (formerly Statoil) of Norway, and PDVSA; Petrolera Sinovensa S.A., a joint venture between China National Petroleum Company and PDVSA; Petromonagas S.A., a joint venture between Rosneft Oil Company of Russia and PDVSA; and Petropiar S.A., a joint venture between Chevron Corporation of the United States and PDVSA.
Leonardo Santilli, a Venezuelan and Italian citizen, controlled several companies in Venezuela and Florida. The Venezuelan companies included Constructora Cosaco Co. and PLD Inversiones C.A. The Florida companies included SGO Group Corp. and A&M Support Group Inc.
According to the documents in this case, between July 2014 through August 2017, Santilli paid bribes of over $9 million to officials at PDVSA and its joint ventures. The bribes were part of a larger scheme where PDVSA officials authorized inflated contracts to preferred contractors, who would, in turn, pay bribes and kickbacks to the corrupt PDVSA officials. The contractors generally had connections to senior officials at PDVSA or senior officials in the Venezuelan government or military, and the contractors would share in proceeds of the inflated contracts. Often the bribes were made by paying front persons and shell entities in order to conceal the true recipient of the money and to disguise the nature of the transaction. In all, Santilli received approximately $146.6 million in inflated contracts from the PDVSA joint venture companies.
On March 20, 2020, the DOJ filed a criminal complaint in the Southern District of Florida against Santilli alleging conspiracy to commit money laundering and direct money laundering violations.
According to a motion to dismiss submitted by the DOJ, Santilli died in Venezuela on September 1, 2020. Accordingly, the court dismissed the case with prejudice on February 12, 2021.