This week the U.S. froze assets in South Florida worth hundreds of millions of dollars. They belong to people charged with embezzling and laundering Venezuelan oil money. South Florida bankers are getting tuned in to this Venezuelan problem.
Last month the U.S. charged several Venezuelan officials and businessmen with laundering more than $1 billion in stolen public funds. Most of it was allegedly laundered through South Florida real estate and other assets.
That’s an increasing occurrence. Venezuelans with allegedly dirty cash to invest are looking for ways around U.S. financial sanctions against their country’s authoritarian regime. So South Florida bankers, lawyers and executives are learning how to spot those laundering schemes.
“Here in South Florida, financial institutions right now are coping with an incredible risk in dealing with Venezuela,” says Daniel Gutierrez, who chairs the Florida International Bankers Association’s anti-money laundering committee.
Thursday in Key Biscayne, the Association hosted a panel, including a Homeland Security agent, on what red flags to look for regarding Venezuela – and what U.S. officials expect financial institutions to do when they see them.
“The banks are struggling with shell corporations that are incorporated here but that are owned by this humongous spider web of offshore companies to hide the ownership with respect to corruption in Venezuela," says Gutierrez. "You have to report that as a suspicious activity.”
The Miami Herald has reported one of the unnamed Venezuelans indicted last month is none other than President Nicolás Maduro.