Wall Street Journal
August 15, 2007
When customs officials found $800,000 in a suitcase at the Buenos Aires airport 10 days ago, maybe they were surprised. Then again, maybe not. The plane containing the case was chartered by the state-owned Argentine energy company, Enarsa, and was carrying a high-ranking Argentine official and three amigos from the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PdVSA.
Investigators aren't sure where the money came from or where it was going. Claudio Uberti of the Argentine Planning Ministry had been on a trip to Caracas, and the PdVSA trio asked to hitch a ride. A Venezuelan businessman on board is said to be the owner of the bag -- though even that is unclear. Maybe they'd just seen "The Godfather: Part II," and were inspired watching Fredo carry the suitcases to Michael in Havana to invest with Hyman Roth.
The incident has caused an uproar in Argentina, and Mr. Uberti has resigned. The suspicion is that the cash was intended to play a role in October's presidential election, in which Cristina Fernandez, the wife of President Nestór Kirchner, is the Peronist candidate. Mr. Kirchner has lined up with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez against the U.S. and market economics, and in return Mr. Chávez has financed the Kirchner government to the tune of more than $5 billion, with $1 billion more pledged last week. Political parties in Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Nicaragua and Ecuador have complained in the past about Mr. Chávez's meddling in their presidential elections.
Mr. Chávez calls the episode a "U.S. plot," naturally. But even the Argentine government concedes that it looks bad, claims to know nothing of the money, and wants Venezuela to apologize. Those dictator allies sure can be embarrassing.