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Monday, May 27, 2024

Ex-Representative from Florida Arrested for Covert Deal with Venezuela

Federal authorities said Monday that they had arrested a former Republican congressman on charges of conspiracy, failure to register as a foreign agent, and other offences. The man had been secretly hired for $50 million by Venezuela’s state-run oil company to promote the possibility of a thaw in relations between the United States and Venezuela in Washington.

Representative David Rivera of Florida was taken into custody by law authorities at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, according to Marlene Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Mr. Rivera is a Cuban American politician who is well-known in Florida politics for his outspoken anti-communism. He served in Congress from 2011 to 2013 following a long career in the state legislature.

A federal indictment issued by a South Florida grand jury last month and unsealed on Monday alleges that Mr. Rivera and a longtime acquaintance, Esther Nuhfer, sought to contact members of Congress and the White House on behalf of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, a socialist.

According to the indictment, Mr. Rivera was compensated by the Venezuelan government for his lobbying efforts to the tune of at least $23.75 million of the $50 million contract that his consulting firm, Interamerican Consulting, had signed with PDV USA, the American subsidiary of the Venezuelan state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., or PDVSA. Mr. Rivera is said to have shared the proceeds with Ms. Nuhfer and others who were not charged.

According to the charges, neither Mr. Rivera nor Ms. Nuhfer registered as foreign agents with the Justice Department as required by the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act.

The charges against Mr. Rivera and Ms. Nuhfer include conspiracy to conduct a crime against the United States, failing to register as foreign agents, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and five counts of participating in transactions in property obtained through illicit activity.

When PDV USA filed a breach of contract suit against Mr. Rivera in 2020 in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, it became known that he had been working with a left-wing Venezuelan administration that was widely despised in South Florida. After PDV USA sued him, Mr. Rivera filed a countersuit, claiming he was still due $30 million from the original deal. Legal proceedings are still ongoing in certain instances.

At least one opposition official called Mr. Rivera’s assertion that he had been working for the opposition rather than the Venezuelan government ludicrous when PDV USA launched its case against him in 2020.

The indictment included email and encrypted text communications demonstrating how Mr. Rivera and Ms. Nuhfer attempted to arrange meetings to influence U.S. policy toward Venezuela. There was one case in which an unknown Texas lawmaker went to Venezuela in April 2018 to meet with Mr. Maduro. AP said at the time that the lawmaker was Republican Representative Pete Sessions.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) was a leader in the effort to censure the Maduro government under the Trump administration, and Mr. Rivera is a personal friend and former roommate of Rubio’s. Mr. Rubio’s spokesperson did not return a call seeking comment on Monday.

According to the indictment, Mr. Rivera and Ms. Nuhfer attempted to meet with a White House aide on the same issue but were unsuccessful.

In the event of a conviction, the federal government may seize the $23.75 million at issue, as well as Ms. Nuhfer’s bank account and four properties in Florida, including a townhouse in a gated neighbourhood that was previously Mr. Rivera’s principal home.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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