WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former U.S. lawmaker David Rivera was arrested on Monday on charges of conspiring to launder money and to illegally act as an agent of the Venezuelan government, according to a U.S. official and an indictment.
Rivera and associate Esther Nuhfer sought to improve bilateral ties and prevent further U.S. economic sanctions against Venezuela, without disclosing this as required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act, according to the indictment.
In exchange, Rivera's consulting group Interamerican Consulting received $15,000,000 in payments in March and April of 2017 from PDV USA, a U.S. subsidiary of Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, the indictment says.
"Law enforcement officers arrested David Rivera today in Atlanta, Georgia, where he made his initial court appearance before a federal magistrate judge," wrote a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
"On November 16, 2022, Rivera was indicted by a federal grand jury sitting in the Southern District of Florida."
They are also charged with engaging in transactions with in criminally derived property.
Reuters was unable to obtain comment from Rivera or Nuhfer.
The two sought to conceal the nature of their work when communicating with one another and with foreign officials, according to the indictment.
They used code words such as "melones" or "melons" in place of millions and called Venezualan President Nicolas Maduro "el guaguero," a term that in some countries refers to a bus driver, Maduro's profession in the 1990s.
PDVSA's U.S. assets have been controlled by Venezuela's opposition since 2019.
In 2020, a PDVSA unit under opposition control sued Interamerican Consulting, stating it received $15 million from PDVSA but performed no meaningful services.
Interamerican paid millions of dollars to a company managing yachts for a Venezuelan businessman, according to records that emerged from that lawsuit.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Washington; Editing by Kim Coghill)