El Nuevo Herald
October 05. 2008
An Argentine security agent and Playboy model said a Venezuelan businessman agreed that a briefcase containing $800,000 was his -- despite his earlier testimony.
In a Miami federal court Friday, an Argentine security agent contradicted the testimony of Venezuelan entertainment producer Alejandro Antonini regarding the facts surrounding a briefcase she discovered containing $800,000 in a Buenos Aires airport.
According to Maria Lujan Telpuk, Antonini agreed that the briefcase was his, contradicting an earlier version of his testimony. Antonini had become the prosecution's star witness in the trial against his former partner, Franklin Duran.
'I asked [Antonini], `Sir, is this briefcase yours?' and he automatically said it was,'' Telpuk said during her first day of testimony for the defense.
Antonini had previously told the jury that he took the briefcase out of courtesy for his traveling companions during a private flight from Venezuela to Argentina, where he was to hand off the briefcase to a car waiting outside the terminal.
When he was interrogated about the contents of the briefcase, Antonini told jurors that he had told Argentine authorities it was not his.
Duran is accused of participating as an illegal agent of the Venezuelan government in a conspiracy to silence Antonini regarding the origin of the money that was confiscated at Jorge Newbery Airport on Aug. 24, 2007.
In a discussion not heard by jurors, Duran's defense attorney, Ed Shohat, asked that prosecutors be stopped from revealing that Telpuk, 27, posed nude for Playboy magazine in Argentina and Bolivia following the incident because it could be prejudicial for his client.
Judge Joan Lenard said she will decide the matter during the trial that has been ongoing for four weeks.
With the help of a diagram that showed the narrow reception area at the airport for private planes, Telpuk explained to the jury each step in the most reported case of international corruption by Latin American press in the past several years.
Telpuk, who had been working as an airport security officer for 2 ½ years before the incident, told jurors that Antonini was one of eight passengers aboard the Cessna Citation aircraft that departed Caracas the previous night. Among the passengers were several oil industry executives from Venezuela and Argentina.
The pilot of the aircraft was responsible for transporting a cart with the passenger's luggage from the plane to the area where Telpuk examined them.
The next-to-last item was a medium-size briefcase that drew the attention of police after it passed through the scanner.
''At first glance they looked like book covers,'' said the agent who froze the image on the screen and asked the pilot to find the owner of the briefcase.
The pilot approached Antonini, who was in the hallway leading to the street, along with the other passengers. Antonini returned to the customs area where he said it was his suitcase.
''What do you have in the briefcase?'' Telpuk asked.
''Books,'' Antonini said.
''What else?'' the agent said.
''Papers,'' answered Antonini.
Telpuk asked him to open the briefcase on the inspection table, but apparently Antonini didn't obey. Telpuk said she raised the tone of her voice until the passenger complied.
''He became nervous and looked into my eyes. He began opening it and when he got to the middle, at that moment I could see that it was full of dollars,'' Telpuk said.
When asked about the quantity of the money, Antonini said it was around $60,000. The briefcase contained $790,550.
''At that moment he became very serious. He looked at me fixedly. My first impression was that he was surprised that there was money,'' the agent said.
Telpuk said she was ''almost certain'' that all of the bills were $50 notes and considered it unlikely there may have been more money in the other scanned luggage.
Shohat tried to deny Antonini's version that on the same flight was a suitcase containing $4.2 million, but the prosecution constantly objected to his questions.
Antonini said that when the briefcase was opened there was another passenger by his side named Claudio Uberti, an employee of the Argentine transit authority who was collecting funds for the campaign of Argentina's current president, Cristina Fernandez.
But Telpuk insisted that she saw only Antonini, accompanied by Daniel Uzcategui.