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Former Florida congressman David Rivera arrested for Venezuela work


David Rivera, a former Republican congressman from Florida, has been arrested as part of an ongoing probe into his alleged dealings with the government of Venezuela.

Federal authorities charged Rivera, 57, with conspiracy to launder money and with failing to register as a foreign agent, among other alleged offenses, the Associated Press reported, citing an indictment against him that was unsealed Monday. Rivera was arrested at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport the same day, the AP said.

The indictment accuses Rivera and one of his associates, Esther Nuhfer, of acting as lobbyists for Venezuela without notifying the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, AP said.

Monday’s indictment, which was signed by a grand jury in Florida, alleges that Rivera, a former Florida state legislator who served in the House of Representatives between 2011 and 2013, and Nuhfer lobbied for the normalization of relations between Washington and Caracas between 2017 and 2018, arranging meetings with lawmakers and White House officials without disclosing that they were working on behalf of Venezuela’s government, AP reported.

It added that, according to the indictment, Rivera used code names in text messages in a possible bid to obscure his dealings with Venezuelan officials, including by referring to President Nicolás Maduro as the “bus driver” and a U.S. congressman as “Sombrero.”

Lawyers representing Rivera did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post early Tuesday.

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Rivera is a longtime friend and former housemate of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), an influential shaper of U.S. policy toward Venezuela. Rubio’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Post early Tuesday.

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Rivera has been embroiled in legal battles over a $50 million lobbying contract he signed in 2017 with an American subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela S.A., or PDVSA.

The American PDVSA subsidiary sued him in 2020, alleging he did little meaningful work for it. The case is ongoing, and Rivera has maintained his innocence. He countersued PDV USA last year, alleging breach of contract.

The case came under particular scrutiny because Rivera, who is Cuban American, has put anti-communism at the core of his political career.

As part of the case, Rivera appeared in federal court for the first time on Monday in Atlanta. The U.S. Marshals Service told the AP he was bailed out of jail that same day. The Miami Herald reported that he will be transferred to Miami in the coming days.