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Press Release

Ten Charged and One Arrested in Connection with Sanctions Evasion Scheme

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs
Defendants Conspired to Unlawfully Export Millions of Dollars’ Worth Of Aircraft Parts From the United States to Venezuela’s State-Owned Oil Company Through Costa Rica And Spain

The Justice Department today announced the unsealing of an indictment charging 10 defendants with conspiring to violate the International Economic Emergency Powers Act (IEEPA) for their roles in a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions imposed on Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), the Venezuelan state-owned oil company, in January 2019. One of the defendants, George Clemente Semerene Quintero, 60, was arrested on April 19, 2024, upon arrival at the Miami International Airport.

As alleged in the indictment, between January 2019 and December 2021, after learning of the sanctions imposed on PDVSA, the defendants devised a scheme to illegally procure aircraft parts, including Honeywell Turbofan Engines, from the United States to service PDVSA’s aircraft fleet in Venezuela, in violation of U.S. sanctions and export controls. To carry out this scheme, the defendants concealed from U.S. companies that the goods were destined for Venezuela and PDVSA by exporting them to third parties in other countries, including Novax Group SA (Novax), a Costa Rican company, and Aerofalcon SL (Aerofalco), a Spanish company. The Department of Commerce added Novax and Aerofalcon to its Entity List in November 2023.

According to court documents, the defendants include:

  • Four individuals associated with PDVSA: Gilberto Ramon Araujo Prieto, 54, a PDVSA air transport manager and colonel in the Venezuelan military; Guillermo Ysrael Marval Rivero, 62, and Fernando Jose Blequett Landaeta, 52, both PDVSA air transport managers and logistics analysts responsible for procurement; and Semerene, PDVSA’s head of logistics, procurement and warehousing.
  • Four individuals associated with Novax: Luis Alberto Duque Carvajal, 63, of San Jose, Costa Rica, the owner of Novax; Melvin Aleman Espinoza, 39, Novax’s director of operations; Mikhail Largin, 60, Novax’s director of special projects; and Pedro Elias Sucre Salazar, 58, a Novax employee located in Venezuela.
  • Two individuals associated with Aerofalcon: Juan Carlos Gonzalez Perez, 60, the owner of Aerofalcon; and Juan David Guerra Viera, 54, a director for Aerofalcon.

The defendants are charged with conspiring to violate IEEPA, and if convicted, face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Defendants Duque, Aleman, Sucre, Gonzalez, and Guerra Viera are additionally charged with submitting false or misleading export information and smuggling of goods, which respectively carry maximum penalties of five and 10 years in prison.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement Matthew S. Axelrod of the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), and U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida made the announcement.

BIS is investigating the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Stratton for the Southern District of Florida and Trial Attorney Ahmed Almudallal of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section (CES) are prosecuting the case. CES Deputy Chief Matthew McKenzie provided valuable assistance during the investigation.

An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Updated April 22, 2024

Export Control
Press Release Number: 24-491