Feds slash Swiss banker’s sentence in Venezuelan money laundering case in Miami

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro gestures while speaking during a press conference at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas on Feb. 17, 2021.
·4 min read

A Swiss banker who was thrust into the spotlight of a billion-dollar Venezuelan money laundering case in Miami has received one of the biggest sentence reductions in U.S. history because of his assistance in helping federal authorities unravel an international web of financial corruption.

Matthias Krull, who has been free on bail since his arrest in the summer of 2018, has seen his 10-year prison sentence slashed to three and a half years by a federal judge — a 65 percent reduction, or double the usual cut for cooperation, according to a court filing unsealed Tuesday.

Prosecutors lauded Krull’s assistance in the foreign corruption case implicating Venezuelan kleptocrats accused of stealing massive sums from their government and moving the tainted money to Europe and South Florida.

Krull, 47, does not have to surrender to prison until July, but even that deadline remains up in the air because it has already been pushed back several times. He declined to comment for this story.

Krull has been credited with helping prosecutors and Homeland Security Investigations obtain plea deals from two other defendants in the $1.2 billion money-laundering conspiracy case — a Miami money manager to be sentenced Thursday and a former Venezuelan government oil official to be sentenced in May, according to court records. He also helped connect prosecutors in Miami with bankers in Switzerland and other European countries to collect valuable information about Venezuelan money laundering schemes around the globe.

Krull’s defense attorney, Oscar S. Rodriguez, said he was grateful for his client’s sentence reduction recommended by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and adopted by U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga, but declined to comment further because of the ongoing investigation.

Four of the nine defendants in the Venezuelan case — which entailed sham loans made to the state-run oil company that were repaid with money washed through the government’s favorable currency exchange systems — have appeared in federal court in Miami. The rest are considered fugitives in Venezuela or other parts of South America.

Krull was mistakenly believed to be the ringleader of the group because he was the first to be arrested while he was traveling through Miami International Airport in July 2018. But the reality was far different. While he was a well-connected Swiss banker operating in Panama and Venezuela, he was brought into the money laundering scheme late in the game to help move hundreds of millions of dollars from Europe to the United States — a task that he and his associates never completed.

Although he was never compensated for his supporting role in the scheme, Krull was ordered to pay $600,000 as financial punishment as part of his initial 10-year prison sentence, now drastically reduced.

Krull’s past relationship with the actual ringleader, Francisco Convit Guruceaga, and other Venezuelan elites suspected of stealing hundreds of millions from the state-run oil company, PDVSA, allowed him to help prosecutors figure out how they moved their illicit funds around the globe, including Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Liechtenstein and Malta.

Some of the Venezuelan kleptocrats charged in an indictment have connections with Nicolás Maduro, who is a suspect in the ongoing investigation, according to federal law enforcement sources familiar with the case. Maduro’s three stepsons are also under investigation, along with a wealthy Caracas TV mogul, Raúl Gorrín. One of Gorrín’s bankers was Krull.

Krull, a German national who worked for the Swiss bank Julius Baer Group, was tapped to move $600 million in stolen Venezuelan funds from a European bank to the United States for the benefit of Maduro’s three stepsons, Gorrín, PDVSA officials and others involved in the racket extending from 2014 to 2016, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

U.S. authorities say the stolen funds were washed through the Venezuelan government’s currency exchange to boost their value before being transferred to Portmann Capital Management in Malta. Some of those embezzled funds were eventually invested in Miami-area luxury real estate and other assets.

In a separate South Florida federal case, Gorrín was charged in 2018 with conspiring with former Venezuelan national treasurer Alejandro Andrade to embezzle more than $1 billion from the government. Andrade pleaded guilty to a money-laundering conspiracy charge and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Andrade has helped the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Homeland Security Investigations make the case against Gorrín, who also had ties to the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

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