November 04, 2008
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Dual U.S.-Venezuelan citizen Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson was paid to testify that a cash-stuffed suitcase he smuggled into Argentina from Venezuela was for the successful presidential campaign of Cristina Fernandez, a top Argentine Cabinet minister alleged Monday.
Antonini was a "hired good-for-nothing who they paid to say whatever, so anything is to be expected," Justice and Security Minister Anibal Fernandez told Buenos Aires-based television station Todo Noticias Tuesday, although the Cabinet member didn't explain who allegedly paid Antonini.
Antonini carried a suitcase filled with $800,000 into Argentina in 2007 and then went to the FBI and agreed to cooperate in the subsequent investigation. He testified the money was for President Fernandez's campaign and was a key witness against his former business partner Franklin Duran, who was found guilty Monday by a U.S. federal jury in Miami of acting as a foreign agent and on conspiracy charges.
Cabinet member Fernandez accused the U.S. on Monday night of "intruding in Argentines' lives" and "besmirching, denouncing Argentina" by connecting the suitcase full of cash to Fernandez's presidential campaign, in comments to Buenos Aires-based television station C5N.
The political scandal "is one more nail in the coffin" for Fernandez, said Riordan Roett, director of the Latin American Studies Program at SAIS-Johns Hopkins University.
He pointed to other political liabilities this year for the president, including a legislative vote that saw major defections from her ruling coalition in July and domestic economic turmoil following a government proposal last month to nationalize private pension funds.
But Roett said he doubted the fragmented political opposition would be able to rally around a call for Fernandez's impeachment. Falling political capital, however, may translate into steep losses at the ballot for her Peronist party during next year's Congressional elections, he added.
President Fernandez hasn't spoken out about the verdict.
The federal jury's decision was announced amid ongoing domestic investigations into other suspicious donations to Fernandez's campaign. An October audit by the National Electoral Chamber found irregularities in donations to her campaign and authorities asked Judge Maria Romilda Servini to investigate the alleged fraud, according to leading daily La Nacion.
The newspaper ran a front-page story Monday citing four Argentines and an official with an unnamed Argentine pharmaceutical company that are listed as large-sum campaign donors, but who all deny they ever sent a peso to Fernandez.
The financial officers for Fernandez's Peronist party deny the charges and say they have proof to back up the donations.
Associated Press writer Mayra Pertossi contributed to this story.