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A US court in Florida sentenced the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s former nurse, Claudia Patricia Díaz Guillen, and her husband to 15 years in prison and three years of probation on Wednesday (19/04).
The sentence establishes that the couple must return US$136 million in goods and cash equivalent to their participation in a money-laundering scandal that left a hole in the Venezuelan government’s coffers.
In addition, each must pay a $75,000 fine.
As of December 2022, Diaz Guillen was found guilty of two of the three money laundering charges against him in a Florida court.
Her husband, Adrián José Velázquez Figueroa, who was head of security at the presidential palace in Miraflores during Chávez’s government, was found guilty of three charges against her.
The prosecution sought a sentence of 23 years and 5 months for him and 19 years and 5 months for him.
From Chavez’s entourage to a US prison
Díaz Guillén was a member of the Honor Guard, the organization responsible for the protection of Venezuelan presidents, and was part of a group of doctors and nurses who met the late president, who was appointed national treasurer. – according to the US case – got rich through a money laundering scheme.
His ruling was the culmination of a judicial process that came to light in 2018 when the couple were arrested in Madrid, Spain, where they lived, due to an extradition request by Venezuelan authorities who accused them of money laundering and illegal enrichment.
Caracas’ request was unsuccessful, but in 2022 Spanish authorities green-lit an extradition request filed by the United States.
In a December 2018 interview with BBC News Mundo, the BBC’s Spanish-language news service, Díaz Guillén defended his acceptance of these public positions on his own merits.
He explained that in parallel with his military career, he obtained degrees in nursing and law from the Central University of Venezuela.
That would have allowed him to join the team of doctors and nurses who have cared for Chavez since 2003, after he joined the Guard in 2001.
Although she insisted her relationship with the then-president was “purely professional”, she insisted in the interview that “over eight years of working directly with him in nursing work, a relationship of respect and friendship was developed”.
In 2011, the year Chávez was diagnosed with cancer, Venezuelan President Díaz Guillen appointed him head of the National Treasury and executive secretary of the National Development Fund (Fondon).
He held office until March 2013, when he was ousted by Nicolás Maduro.
According to the US Attorney, between 2011 and 2013, Díaz Guillén received at least US$65 million in bribes from Raul Gorrín, the Venezuelan businessman who owns the Globovisión news channel, who is currently wanted by a US court.
These sources’ payments are said to be intended to allow Corinne to carry out exchange operations within the strict exchange control system established by Chávez in Venezuela.
At the time, given the large difference between the official dollar price and the unofficial price, acquiring currency at the government-set preferential price and selling it on the black market was a highly profitable activity.
Díaz Guillén faces charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. US authorities see her husband as a key partner in these operations, as a portion of the bribes may have been transferred in her name or through companies she owns.
Unlike many former Hugo Chávez government officials who have been tried in the United States—such as former National Treasurer Alejandro Andrade—Díaz Guillen has pleaded not guilty to the crimes he is accused of.
Lawyers for the couple say they plan to appeal the sentence.
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