(Refiles to fix reporting credit)
March 28 (Reuters) - Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA on Monday said it was the target of a smear campaign after the U.S. Justice Department said three of the firm’s former employees had pleaded guilty to charges over a scheme to corruptly secure energy contracts.
The former officials at Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) pleaded guilty under seal in December to conspiracy to commit money laundering. Their pleas were unsealed by a federal judge in Houston last week.
The three are Jose Luis Ramos Castillo, 38, Christian Javier Maldonado Barillas, 39, and Alfonzo Eliezer Gravina Munoz, 53.
In a statement late on Monday night, PDVSA said the men "are not PDVSA workers, they had temporary, low-level jobs in the organizational structure of PDVSA Services Inc and were removed before these accusations became public." (bit.ly/1Tfv9MF)
Further information on the three was not immediately available.
The U.S. Justice Department said each had admitted to accepting bribes from two Venezuelan businessmen, Roberto Rincon and Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas, who were charged in December with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
PDVSA had at the time also denounced what it called an international campaign to discredit it.
The company on Monday said internal audits of domestic and international procurement led by international forensic experts were underway to determine if any illicit acts had been committed. (Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer in Caracas; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)