US judge in Texas dismisses charges against Swiss banker allegedly tied to Venezuela bribery scheme
NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge in Houston has dismissed criminal charges against a Swiss banker accused of helping stash millions in bribes paid to senior Venezuelan oil officials over long delays in bringing the case to trial.
Judge Kenneth Hoyt ruled Wednesday that unjustified trial delays violated Paulo Murta’s constitutional right to a speedy trial within 70 days of being charged.
Murta was indicted in 2019 on money laundering charges as part of a sprawling multi-year investigation into corruption at Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA. He was extradited to the United States by his native Portugal after a lengthy legal fight and spent nine months in pre-trial detention before being released last year on $75,000 bond.
Prosecutors asked Hoyt to stay his order for at least seven days while they file an appeal with the 5th U.S. Circuit of Appeals, which oversees federal proceedings in Houston.
“Murta is charged for his role in a sprawling foreign bribery and money laundering scheme. Society has a significant interest in those charges being adjudicated,” prosecutors from the Justice Department’s fraud division wrote. “If this Court erred in dismissing the indictment and no stay is granted, those societal interests will be thwarted.”
Lawyers for Murta did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.
It is the second time Hoyt has dismissed charges against Murta. He found in 2022 that prosecutors lacked jurisdiction to charge the foreign national, but the ruling was reversed by the 5th Circuit and the case sent back to Hoyt.
Murta, who worked for an unnamed Swiss company closely connected to bankers for Portugal’s Banco Espirito Santo financial empire, was accused of creating fake loans and setting up shell companies in Switzerland, Curacao and Dubai to hide proceeds from the PDVSA bribery scheme.
Prosecutors said he was acting as an agent of two Venezuelan businessmen and a former official at Venezuela’s state-run electric company -- all of whom pleaded guilty to involvement in the bribery scheme by which vendors were seeking favorable treatment from PDVSA.
Joshua Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman
Joshua Goodman, The Associated Press