The New York Times / Washington Post
November 1, 2008
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- President Hugo Chavez on Saturday threatened to expropriate a major Venezuelan company because of its owners' ties to a scandal involving the seizure of a suitcase stuffed with $800,000 in cash.
A Miami jury is deliberating the case of Franklin Duran, a wealthy businessman who was a partner in Industrias Venoco, CA, a company that makes lubricants and other petroleum-based products in Venezuela's central Carabobo state.
''The owners of this business, Venoco, are lending themselves to an action against the fatherland in the United States,'' Chavez said. ''This business needs to be expropriated.''
Telephone calls to Venoco's headquarters were not returned Saturday.
Duran has been accused of acting as an illegal foreign agent in the U.S. to cover up the source and destination of the cash-filled suitcase, which authorities seized last year in Argentina.
Prosecutors say Venezuela sent the cash as a gift to fund Argentine President Cristina Fernandez's presidential election campaign. Both Chavez and Fernandez have denied the allegation.
Duran's former Venoco business partner, Carlos Kauffmann, has testified that he and Duran were tapped by the Venezuelan government to quell the scandal by persuading Miami-based businessman and dual Venezuelan-U.S. citizen Guido Antonini Wilson -- the man caught with the suitcase -- to cover up the origins of the money. Duran claims he was set up by the FBI and was not acting as Venezuela's agent.
The two men were equal partners in the petrochemical company but it's unclear how many assets they now hold. Earlier this month, Kauffmann testified that Venezuela had frozen his assets and bank accounts, but was prevented from answering whether the same was true of Duran.
Speaking at an election event in Venezuela's oil-rich Zulia state Saturday, Chavez suggested other oil-related businesses will also have to clean up their act.
''Companies that lend services to PDVSA and have machinery, assets -- no,'' he said, referring to the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, SA. ''They are full of corruption. They contaminate the environment. Violate the laws.''
He did not threaten any other companies with expropriation, but said the building of socialism requires the ''construction of a material base.''
''We've advanced a little, but only a little,'' he said.
Under Chavez, Venezuela has nationalized major players in the steel, electricity and cement sectors -- and has taken majority control of four major oil projects -- in the past two years.