MIAMI - Attorney Rudy Giuliani met with Justice Department lawyers this fall to discuss a new client, a wealthy Venezuelan businessman who was being investigated as part of a massive money laundering case in Miami, according to sources familiar with the meeting in Washington, D.C.
Giuliani arranged the September meeting at the Justice Department after he had stayed with the client, Alejandro Betancourt, at his castle estate in Madrid the previous month, the sources said. Betancourt's legal team, including Giuliani and other lawyers, attended the meeting at the Justice Department.
A story first reported Tuesday in The Washington Post said that during his August visit to Spain, Giuliani separately met with a top aide to the Ukrainian president to lobby him to open a corruption investigation sought by President Donald Trump into his Democratic political rival, Joe Biden.
While Giuliani has gained notoriety as the president's personal lawyer in the Ukrainian matter - now the main subject of impeachment proceedings in Congress - the former mayor and U.S. attorney in New York has emerged as one of Betancourt's lawyers in the Miami money-laundering case.
The Post portrayed Giuliani as a potentially conflicted lawyer who provides "his services to foreign clients with interests before the U.S. government while working on behalf of the president."
Giuliani's attorney, Eric Creizman, declined to comment in the Post story.
Betancourt's Miami lawyer, Jon Sale, declined to comment about Giuliani's role as the Venezuelan businessman's co-counsel. As for the federal investigation of Betancourt, Sale told the Miami Herald that Giuliani has committed no wrongdoing.
The Justice Department also declined to comment about Giuliani or his meeting with federal lawyers.
It is unclear whether Giuliani is still representing Betancourt in the Miami case.
In federal court papers, Betancourt is known only as "Conspirator 2," according to sources familiar with the international money laundering probe. He is not identified by name. Betancourt is among a politically connected class of Venezuelan businessmen with financial ties to Miami and New York who have become fabulously wealthy from energy deals with the socialist government in Caracas.
Betancourt co-founded a power company called Derwick Associates a decade ago that has reaped billions of dollars in government contracts for a string of new plants in Venezuela. With his windfall, Betancourt not only expanded his business into the United States but also bought a penthouse apartment in Manhattan's Olympic Tower, along with the historic estate and other luxury properties in Spain, according to court documents. He also has leased planes for his business activities in the United States and once owned a luxury apartment in Miami, records show.
The money laundering case charges his cousin and several of the so-called "Boliburgueses" - young, well-educated entrepreneurs close to the Venezuelan regime - with conspiring to bribe government officials to approve a loan scheme to embezzle $1.2 billion from the country's national oil company, PDVSA, during the presidency of Nicolas Maduro.
Although Betancourt is not identified by name, several sources familiar with the widening investigation say he is among the dozen unnamed Venezuelan conspirators and officials listed in a criminal complaint that details the alleged international racket.
Betancourt, 39, and some of the other unidentified conspirators and officials could be added as defendants to an indictment, according to sources familiar with the federal case. So far, nine defendants have been charged in the Miami indictment and a related case, with two pleading guilty and one awaiting trial. The remaining six defendants, including Betancourt's cousin, Francisco Convit Guruceaga, are considered fugitives by the U.S. attorney's office in Miami.
Thor Halvorssen Mendoza, president of the Human Rights Foundation in New York, has been sounding an alarm about Betancourt since 2012, filing multiple lawsuits alleging he and his associates swindled billions from the Venezuelan government.
"The hiring of Giuliani makes perfect sense," Halvorssen told el Nuevo Herald. "It is not surprising."
"Mr. Betancourt understood one thing very clearly from his time as a penniless entrepreneur in Venezuela: It is all about connections at the top of the government and law enforcement," Halvorssen said. "Naturally, just as he went straight to the top of PDVSA, the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Electricity in Venezuela, he went straight to the top in the United States. When (Barack) Obama was in office, he hired top Democratic lawyers. Now with Trump in office, he hires Rudy Giuliani."
In Miami, Houston and New York, several corruption cases have been pursued by the Justice Department alleging bribery, embezzlement and money laundering activities in Venezuela and the United States that have taken a devastating toll on Venezuela's economy. The country has suffered the loss of billions of dollars embezzled from its state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A, or PDVSA, mainly because of green-palming between government officials and the country's elite business class, federal authorities say.
Visit Miami Herald at www.miamiherald.com