September 25, 2008
MIAMI -- An Argentine official and the security chief of Venezuela's oil minister were in charge of loading two suitcases aboard a flight carrying cash intended for the campaign of Argentina's president, according to evidence presented by U.S. prosecutors Wednesday.
Argentine official Claudio Uberti was named along with the Venezuelan Rafael Reiter in a document presented by prosecutors. They said it was written by Franklin Duran, a Venezuelan businessmen accused of acting illegally as a Venezuelan government agent in a scheme to conceal the source of the cash.
Reiter headed security for Venezuela's energy minister, Rafael Ramirez, at the time.
Uberti, who ran a regulatory body for toll roads, resigned last year after the Venezuelan Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson was found carrying about $800,000 in undeclared cash on the flight from Caracas to Buenos Aires.
Antonini, a dual U.S.-Venezuelan citizen, left Argentina after customs agents seized that cash-filled suitcase. Prosecutors have said the cash was destined for the campaign of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez.
Both Fernandez and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez vehemently deny the accusation as an attempt by Washington to smear their left-leaning governments for political reasons.
Antonini decided to cooperate with the FBI, recording conversations in Miami with Venezuelans who allegedly pressured him to keep quiet.
Duran allegedly wrote the note with questions and answers for Antonini during that time.
The note indicates that Reiter turned over two cash-filled suitcases to Uberti, and the Argentine official later carried away one of the suitcase that wasn't seized at the airport. Antonini has testified he was told that second suitcase held $4.2 million.
Duran's defense lawyer, Ed Shohat, sought to disqualify Antonini as a witness, saying he was offering opinions and not facts. But the judge dismissed that objection.
Prosecutors also presented a letter signed by Antonini and directed to Chavez. Antonini has acknowledged under questioning from the defense that the letter was prepared by the FBI.
In it, Antonini asked Chavez for $2 million in cash to pay lawyers and help him clear his name: "Due to the hardships I am suffering, and to clear my good name and to have enough resources to pay the attorneys, I need two million dollars."
The letter also said "I am grateful for your help in resolving this matter" and that "the large suitcase passed (through customs) and Uberti took it with him."
It's unclear if Chavez or anyone in his government ever responded.
Chavez has called Antonini a "traitor," saying he is being protected by U.S. authorities while making "trash" accusations.