“If it all hasn’t been spent on Ferraris and real estate, we’re talking about billions of dollars at stake,” said Russell Dallen, a lawyer and investment manager with businesses in South Florida and Caracas, who has followed the series of Venezuelan money-laundering prosecutions in Miami and Houston. “The money was all stolen from PDVSA.”

But Dallen and other legal observers disagreed with the U.S. government’s position, saying PDVSA is a victim because Ortega violated his fiduciary duty to the national oil company at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Dallen, who is also a lawyer and close observer of Venezuelan affairs, agreed.

“This is not a victimless crime,” Dallen said. “The shareholders of PDVSA are the Venezuelan people, and their money was stolen from them. It was stolen by a horde of locusts, and now there are people in Venezuela who are dying and starving.”