Venezuelan courier removed cash from suitcas

Por Venezuela Real - 15 de Agosto, 2008, 18:44, Categoría: Prensa Internacional

Miami Herald
15 de agosto de 2008

A Key Biscayne resident, who was caught with a suitcase containing $800,000 in Argentina last year, actually had more than that, records indicated.

When Argentine customs officers searched the suitcase of an arriving Venezuelan businessman a year ago this month, they found about $800,000 in cash -- a discovery that sparked an international scandal stretching from Buenos Aires to Caracas to Key Biscayne.

Now it turns out that the Key Biscayne-based Venezuelan businessman, Guido Alejandro Antonini, carried more money than previously reported, but that he and a companion removed unspecified amounts before the suitcase was seized in Buenos Aires on Aug. 4, 2007. Antonini eventually turned in $3,250 to the FBI, court records show.

Documents recently filed in Miami federal court also reveal that the Venezuelan intelligence service known as DISIP may have sought to offer Antonini $2 million to buy his silence.

''They told me that DISIP had sent two million, one million dollars to be given to me . . . that they would double the amount,'' Antonini is quoted as saying in the transcript.


The case has drawn worldwide attention because it underscores the sharp ideological tensions between Washington and Caracas over Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's anti-American policies.

Federal prosecutors in the United States have alleged that the money in the suitcase was secretly sent by the Chávez government to the campaign of Cristina Férnandez de Kirchner, who took office as president of Argentina just days before federal charges were filed in Miami.

Férnandez de Kirchner has denied the allegations, calling them ''garbage,'' and her supporters have accused the United States of developing the case to embarrass her administration.

Critics have accused Chávez of using his country's oil wealth to fund politicians in several Latin American and Caribbean countries in a bid to gain anti-American allies and spread his leftist-populist ideology.

The new information was filed in advance of the Sept. 2 trial in Miami federal court of wealthy Venezuelan business executive Franklin Durán -- one of four men named in connection with federal charges of being unregistered foreign agents for the Venezuelan government.

The others -- Cárlos Kauffmann, Moisés Maionica and Rodolfo Edgardo Wanseele Paciello -- have pleaded guilty to similar charges. All have homes or ties to Miami-Dade County.

A fifth suspect, Antonio José Canchica Gómez, remains at large.

Federal prosecutors have said the men's mission was to hush up Antonini and prevent him from revealing the source of the cash or its recipient.

What was not known until now is the suggestion that DISIP may have sought to bribe Antonini and that Antonini carried more cash in the suitcase than previously known.

In newly filed records, federal prosecutors disclosed that Daniel Uzcátegui Spetch, son of the vice president of Venezuela's state-run oil company Petróleos de Venezuela or PDVSA, and Antonini himself removed money from the suitcase before it was seized.

Court records say Antonini, who has been collaborating with the FBI in the case, handed over $3,250 to the FBI when he returned to South Florida after he was released following the seizure of the suitcase in Buenos Aires. Filed documents indicate that the $3,250 is the money Antonini said he took out of the suitcase before it was seized. Records do not say why the money was removed or precisely how much was in the suitcase before Antonini and Uzcátegui Spetch allegedly removed cash.


The newly released documents include part of a transcript from a conversation taped by the FBI Sept. 12, 2007 between Antonini and Wladimir Abad, a Venezuelan pilot and Antonini business associate. It's in that conversation that Antonini is quoted as telling Abad that DISIP offered money.

Antonini goes on to say, according to the transcript, that he has e-mails and text messages in which Durán and Kauffman refer to the money.

It's not clear from the court records if Antonini ever received the $2 million or whether federal authorities corroborated that Venezuelan intelligence actually sent the money.

Duran's defense attorneys have complained that prosecutors have not provided copies of the alleged e-mails and text messages.

Federal prosecutors have alleged that representatives of the Chávez government tried to convince Antonini to keep quiet about the money in the suitcase.

Abad, who has not been charged, appears on incorporation records for several businesses belonging to Antonini, Kauffmann and Durán.

Abad acknowledged to El Nuevo Herald last year that he has worked with Kauffmann and Durán on aviation industry business in the past, but denied any connection to the case. He did not return calls seeking an interview for this article.

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