21 de diciembre 2007 - 00:00

Poisonous dripping continues: Antonini Wilson shown to have visited Argentine Government House

Antonini Wilson
Antonini Wilson
A U.S. grand jury indicted four Venezuelans and a Uruguayan on Thursday on charges of acting as unregistered foreign agents for Venezuela who allegedly tried to cover up a scheme to smuggle $800,000 in cash to Argentina.

The indictment formalizes charges brought last week when four of the five were arrested in connection with the case, which touched off corruption allegations in South America and diplomatic tensions between Washington and Buenos Aires.

U.S. prosecutors say the men represented the anti-U.S. government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and alleged in court that one of the defendants said the money was destined for the campaign of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who won Argentina's presidential election in October.

The grand jury indicted Moises Maionica, 36, Rodolfo Wanseele Paciello, 40, Franklin Duran, 40, and Carlos Kauffmann, 35, who were in custody in Florida, and Antonio Jose Canchica Gomez, 37, who is still at large.

The men face up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 fines.

Fernandez, an ally of Chavez, has called the charges "garbage" and Chavez has accused the United States of seeking to undermine the two countries' relationship.

The Venezuelan-American businessman accused of trying to smuggle the $800,000 in a suitcase into Argentina visited the presidential palace two days after the incident, an Argentine prosecutor said on Thursday.

The money was seized by Argentine customs in August.

The case has caused an uproar in Argentine. Chavez has accused Washington of seeking to undermine Argentine-Venezuelan relations, while Washington says its probe is not politically motivated.

Prosecutor Maria Luz Rivas Diez said a former Argentine government employee testified the man with the suitcase, Guido Antonini Wilson, visited Argentina's presidential palace two days after the money was confiscated.

"Apparently he was with other people at a sort of toast or celebration, while in another office an accord was being signed with Venezuela," Rivas Diez told Radio Del Plata.

Argentine government officials, who allowed Antonini to leave the country but now seek his extradition from the United States to question him about possible money laundering, did not immediately comment.

The case -- dubbed the "suitcase scandal" by Argentine media -- erupted after Antonini carried the cash on a private jet chartered by Argentina's government to ferry Argentine and Venezuelan officials from Caracas to Buenos Aires.

The government witness is a former secretary to an Argentine official who chartered the plane, Rivas Diez said. She was on the Caracas-Buenos Aires flight.

U.S. officials have not charged Antonini, who lives in Miami and is cooperating with American investigators.

On Wednesday, Argentina's Congress, in which Fernandez's center-left coalition holds a majority, passed a resolution condemning the United States over the investigation.

Fernandez, a former first lady and senator, succeeded her husband, former President Nestor Kirchner, who has publicly accused Washington of engineering a smear campaign against his wife.

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