The New York TImes
September 10, 2008
MIAMI — The $800,000 discovered in a suitcase that prosecutors say was a secret campaign contribution to an Argentine presidential candidate was sent by Venezuela’s national oil company, a Venezuelan lawyer testified Wednesday.
Acting on behalf of the government of President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, an assistant to the president of the oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, boarded a plane in August 2007 in Caracas with the intention of delivering the suitcase of cash to the campaign of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the lawyer, Moisés Maionica, said in his second day of testimony in a trial in United States District Court here.
The operation went awry because the plane took off late from Caracas, Mr. Maionica said. When it arrived at a Buenos Aires airport on Aug. 4, the intended arrival ramp, which would have offered minimal customs scrutiny, was not available. Instead, Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, a Venezuelan-American businessman, seemingly at the last minute helped an Argentine government official to roll the bag through customs. An Argentine customs police officer ordered Mr. Wilson to open the bag and discovered the cash.
Venezuelan officials immediately scrambled to contain the fallout from the discovery, Mr. Maionica said, and to prevent Mr. Wilson from telling Argentine investigators and the news media that the bag had been sent by the oil company on the Venezuelan government’s behalf to help Mrs. Kirchner, who won election two months later. The Venezuelan officials were operating with orders from the highest levels of the country’s security apparatus, he said.
Prosecutors also began playing a series of taped conversations on Wednesday that were recorded by Mr. Wilson, who has been cooperating with the F.B.I. The defendant in the trial is Franklin Durán, a Venezuelan businessman who is charged with conspiracy and with operating as an unauthorized agent of a foreign government, Venezuela.
Mr. Durán was one of five men charged by United States prosecutors with conspiring to coerce Mr. Wilson to cover up the details of the origin and intended destination of the $800,000. Three of the defendants, including Mr. Maionica, have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with prosecutors. One, José Canchica, a high-level Venezuelan security official, is still at large.
Mr. Maionica testified that he was hired by the Venezuelan government in August 2007 to help manage the situation involving Mr. Wilson and the cash. Mr. Maionica said he reported directly to Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, the head of Venezuela’s intelligence service, and met regularly with him.
Mr. Maionica said he had acted as the middleman between Venezuelan officials in Caracas and Mr. Wilson in Florida, ferrying demands for cash from Mr. Wilson. In one private meeting, Mr. Maionica said, General Rangel told him that “no legal action would be taken against Antonini Wilson in Venezuela, as long as he did not talk, of course.
Mr. Maionica testified that General Rangel told him about the cash-filled suitcase and the flight to Buenos Aires on the day the cash was discovered. He said General Rangel told him that Venezuela’s national oil company, with Mr. Chávez’s knowledge, was paying his legal bill.