Coral Gables, Miami Mansions Face Forfeiture in $1.2B Venezuela Money-Laundering Scheme

Article Courtesy of The Daily Business Review

By Lidia Dinkova

Published September 11, 2018


The federal government wants to seize a three-bedroom condo at the glitzy Porsche Design Tower, a Miami mansion and two others in Coral Gables as part of an alleged conspiracy to launder $1.2 billion embezzled from Venezuela’s oil company.

Authorities charge an elaborate network designed to clean money taken from state-run Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., or PDVSA, and place funds in fake investments and South Florida real estate.

Originally, the only Miami-Dade County real estate connection made public was the 3,171-square-foot unit in Porsche Design Tower, the Sunny Isles Beach condominium built by Dezer Development and equipped with the Dezervator elevator for residents’ cars. Unit No. 2205 was alleged to be part of a suspicious transfer between two people charged in the money-laundering conspiracy.

Carmelo Urdaneta Aqui, former counsel to the Venezuelan oil ministry, is accused of giving the condo to Jose Amparan Croquer as a fee for laundering services in a currency exchange fraud, according to a July 23 affidavit. Urdaneta transferred ownership of Paladium Real Estate Group LLC, the company he used to buy the condo, from his wife to Amparan’s wife, Carolina, essentially giving Amparan control of both Paladium and the unit.

Paladium, registered with the state in May 2016, bought the unit in January 2017 for $5.3 million from the developer’s affiliate 18555 Developers LLC, according to the Miami-Dade County property appraiser’s office and the state Division of Corporations.

Federal authorities might pursue forfeiture of the unit, according to a July 27 notice filed in federal court.

No attorneys are listed for Amparan or Urdaneta.

Ties linking the other properties to money laundering are less clear.

Federal authorities want to seize two estates in Coral Gables’ affluent Cocoplum enclave — a 4,190-square-foot, five-bedroom home at 194 Isla Dorada Blvd. and a 4,677-square-foot, four-bedroom home at 6905 Prado Blvd. — plus a 3,962-square-foot, three-bedroom home at 597 Hibiscus Lane in Miami’s Bay Point neighborhood, according to forfeiture notices filed Aug. 29. Also, there’s a forfeiture notice for a 38,200-square-foot vacant lot in Coral Gables.

An Aug. 17 indictment charged eight people with involvement in the conspiracy and lists the four properties without much elaboration. They are described as substitute real estate the federal government should be allowed to seize if other property and assets subject to forfeiture can’t be taken.

The scheme allegedly started in December 2014, and authorities learned of it two years later when someone involved came forward to turn in 78 million euros and agreed to cooperate with authorities.

Two have been arrested, including a former executive at Swiss bank Julius Baer Group Ltd.

Matthias Krull, the bank’s former managing director and vice chairman, was arrested in Miami on July 24, a day after the criminal complaint and affidavit was filed. Krull, who is a German resident of Panama, has pleaded guilty to money-laundering conspiracy and faces up to 10 years in prison at sentencing set Oct. 29 before U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga in Miami.

He has admitted attracting Venezuelan clients, including a defendant, while working for the bank and joining the money-laundering conspiracy, federal prosecutors said.

Gustavo Hernandez Frieri, a Colombian national with U.S. citizenship, was arrested July 24 in Sicily, and remains on house arrest in Italy as extradition proceedings are pending.

His attorney, Carlton Fields shareholder Michael Pasano in Miami, denied the allegations.

“Gustavo Hernandez has been unfairly targeted and wrongly charged, and the evidence will show that he had no contact with Matthias Krull and is not a money launderer. Mr. Hernandez is fighting these accusations,” Pasano said in an emailed statement.

Krull and Frieri are among the eight charged in the complaint and described in an affidavit filed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent George Fernandez.

The others are Venezuelans Francisco Convit Guruceaga, Abraham Eduardo Ortega, Hugo Andre Ramalho Gois of Portugal, Marcelo Gutierrez Acosta y Lara of Uruguay, Amparan and Urdaneta.

Separately, the Aug. 17 indictment charged Guruceaga, Ortega, Amparan, Urdaneta, Gois, Acosta y Lara and Frieri with money-laundering conspiracy and other counts specific to each defendant. The indictment also charges Venezuelan businessman Mario Bonilla Vallera with conspiracy.