THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times
January 25, 2008
MIAMI (AP) -- A Venezuelan man pleaded guilty Friday in a scheme to cover up the source of $800,000 in a suitcase seized in Argentina, where it was allegedly sent by Venezuelans as a donation to Cristina Fernandez's presidential campaign.
Moises Maionica, 36, admitted to acting as an unregistered foreign government agent in the U.S. He could be sentenced to up to 15 years for this and a related conspiracy count, but is cooperating with prosecutors and thus could get a reduced sentence.
U.S. officials said Maionica and four others tried to hide the Venezuelan source of the cash, which was carried into Argentina in August by dual U.S.-Venezuelan citizen Guido Antonini Wilson, now wanted by Argentina on money laundering charges.
Instead of sending Antonini Wilson back to Argentina, U.S. investigators wired him with a recording device in Florida and gathered evidence against the alleged Venezuelan agents who pressured him to conceal the money's source, according to court documents.
Antonini was apparently a last-minute passenger on a plane chartered by Venezuelan oil officials and was asked by one of them to carry the cash-laden suitcase through customs in Buenos Aires, prosecutors said in court Friday.
Maionica admitted arranging calls between Antonini and a senior official in Venezuela's intelligence agency, which the FBI said it recorded. He also acknowledged that he met with Antonini and the other suspected agents: Venezuelans Carlos Kauffmann, 35, Franklin Duran, 40, and Uruguayan Rodolfo Wanseele, 40.
All have pleaded not guilty and face up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines if convicted at trial, now set for March. Another Venezuelan charged in the case, Antonio Jose Canchica Gomez, has not been found. Maionica's sentencing is scheduled for April 4.
According to the FBI, it was Duran who was recorded telling Antonini the money was for the campaign of Fernandez, who was later elected despite the scandal.
The governments of Argentina and Venezuela have bitterly denounced the U.S. investigation as politically motivated, which the Bush administration has denied.
Ruben Oliva, Maionica's attorney, said his client had been in the U.S. getting ready to take a cruise, and got involved in the scheme after he received a call from a high-ranking Venezuelan official asking him to help Antonini Wilson.
Maionica, an attorney in Venezuela, did not know he needed to register with the U.S., Oliva said, but ignorance of the law is not a defense. He entered his plea and politely answered questions from U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard in Spanish, his hands clasped behind his back.
More information about Maionica's involvement will be introduced before his sentencing, Oliva said.
Duran and Kauffmann are business and social acquaintances of Antonini. They are also shareholders in the Venezuelan petrochemical company Venoco and have economic ties to the Venezuelan state oil company that finances the government of President Hugo Chavez.
Duran owns a waterfront mansion on the Miami suburb island of Key Biscayne