Ecuador Internacional

Feds Grapple With Delays In Ecuadorean Oil Bribery Case

The indictment alleges that Chatburn Ripalda and his co-conspirators unlawfully enriched themselves by facilitating more than $3.2 million in bribes to officials of PetroEcuador, to obtain and maintain contracts for GalileoEnergy SA

Law360 - Nathan Hale 09/07/2018

Federal prosecutors expressed some urgency at a hearing Friday in Miami to advance a multimillion-dollar case accusing two men of participating in a bribery and money laundering scheme that allegedly helped a company gain $27.8 million in business from Ecuador's state-owned oil company after one of the defendants requested a delay.

The arraignment of defendant Frank Roberto Chatburn Ripalda, who faces charges of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and money laundering, was scheduled for Friday morning but ended up being delayed by at least one week as a magistrate judge decided the district judge should rule on his request for two more weeks to work out financial arrangements with new counsel.

That came after co-defendant Jose Larrea decided on the eve of a July 3 hearing at which he was scheduled to enter a guilty plea that he had lost confidence in his counsel, leading to a cancellation. Prosecutor Karen Rochlin said at Friday's hearing that it is unclear if he still plans to plead guilty.

The government ultimately agreed with U.S. Magistrate Judge Chris M. McAliley's assessment that she should put off Chatburn Ripalda's arraignment and have the parties go before U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke, but indicated it is concerned about delays because Larrea has been in custody since late April and Judge Cooke set an Aug. 20 trial date. Chatburn Ripalda is currently free on bond.

“Something is necessary to bring this particular phase of the case to a close,” Rochlin told the court. “We need to move the case forward.”

The indictment, which was entered April 20, alleges that Chatburn Ripalda, a dual United States and Ecuador citizen living in South Florida, and his co-conspirators unlawfully enriched themselves by facilitating more than $3.2 million in bribes to officials of Empresa Publica de Hidrocarburos del Ecuador, known as PetroEcuador, to obtain and maintain contracts for GalileoEnergy SA, an Ecuadorean company that services the oil and gas industry.

As part of the alleged conspiracy, which prosecutors say ran from 2013 through 2015, Chatburn Ripalda set up a Panamanian shell company called Denfield Investments Inc. He used Denfield and an escrow agent in the British Virgin Islands, referred to only as an “intermediary company” in the complaint, to funnel and conceal bribe payments to the PetroEcuador officials.

He also allegedly helped two PetroEcuador officials set up offshore shell corporations and open Swiss bank accounts to conceal the money they illicitly received.

The indictment details several wire transfers, ranging from $50,000 to $700,000, that Chatburn Ripalda allegedly made as part of the conspiracy.

Larrea faces money laundering charges, along with Chatburn Ripalda, for conducting financial transactions intended to conceal the unlawful activities.

Larrea's counsel, Juan C. Ramos-Rosado of McConnell Valdes LLP, said Friday that the reasons for his and his colleague Maria A. Dominguez's withdrawal are laid out in the motion they filed with the court.

In that motion, they said communication between them and Larrea “has been strained to the point that the undersigned counsels are unable to serve as competent counsel for defendant,” and that Larrea had informed them he had opted to hire new counsel.

The indictment also includes a count seeking that Chatburn Ripalda and Larrea forfeit any proceeds or property derived from proceeds obtained through the scheme. The government lists two properties in Miami and Miami Beach that it suggests it could take as possible substitute property if property subject to forfeiture cannot be located or recovered.

It is unclear at this time if the government expects to charge any other parties in connection with the conspiracy.

The United States is represented by Karen Rochlin and Nalina Sombuntham of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida, and Lorinda Laryea and Randall Warren of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Chatburn Ripalda is represented by Howard Milton Srebnick and Rossana Arteaga-Gomez of Black Srebnick Kornspan & Stumpf and Andres Rivero of Rivero Mestre LLP.

Larrea is in the process of changing counsel.

The case is U.S. v. Chatburn Ripalda et al., case number 1:18-cr-20312, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

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