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Venezuelan in cash seizure seen at Argentine palace

December 21, 2007|From the Associated Press

BUENOS AIRES — A Venezuelan businessman caught with a cash-stuffed suitcase reportedly was seen two days later in Argentina's presidential palace, a prosecutor said Thursday.

Argentine and Venezuelan officials have denounced U.S. court allegations that Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson was bringing Venezuelan contributions to presidential candidate Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who won Argentina's Oct. 28 election.

Officials in both countries say the U.S. is using its courts to undermine them by falsely claiming that they are linked to the $800,000 seized Aug. 4 from Antonini upon his arrival in Argentina on a charter with state energy company officials from both countries.

But speaking on independent Radio Del Plata, Argentine prosecutor Luz Rivas Diez said a witness named Victoria Beresiuk testified that she saw Antonini in the palace Aug. 6 during a ceremony celebrating an energy agreement with Venezuela. Argentina's president at the time was Fernandez's husband, Nestor Kirchner.

Despite seizing the undeclared cash, Argentine officials failed to detain Antonini. On Thursday, a federal grand jury in Miami indicted five associates of Antonini on charges of being unregistered foreign agents.

In custody in Miami are Venezuelans Franklin Duran, 40; Carlos Kauffmann, 35; and Moises Maionica, 36; and Uruguyana Rodolofo Wanseele, 40. Also indicted but not in custody is Antonio Jose Canchica, 37, also of Venezuela. Conviction on the charge could bring 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Attorneys for some of the men have said they are innocent.

The U.S. prosecutors said the four had tried to cajole and threaten Antonini -- who wore a concealed microphone -- to hide the Venezuelan government origin of the suitcase cash. One of the men was secretly recorded saying the money was intended for Fernandez's campaign, they said.

Argentine officials have questioned the logic of the U.S. allegations: Fernandez was so far ahead that she didn't need foreign cash, they say. They also say the U.S. should honor Argentina's request to extradite Antonini.

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