Venezuela rebukes US over cash case charges

U.S. prosecutors' charges drew a strong rebuke from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's government, which called it a "fabricated scandal."

Venezuela rebukes US over cash case charges
U.S. prosecutors said a suitcase filled with nearly $800,000 was brought into Argentina from Venezuela as a campaign contribution allegedly intended for Argentina's newly elected president.

The charges drew a strong rebuke from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's government, which called it a "fabricated scandal."

The disclosure came Wednesday in a Miami court hearing for a criminal complaint against four men arrested and charged with being illegal Venezuelan agents who attempted a cover-up.

U.S. prosecutors said recorded conversations of those involved indicate the scheme reached to the highest levels of the Venezuelan government.

But Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro called the charges "a desperate effort by the United States government using ... the judicial branch for a political, psychological, media war against the progressive governments of the continent."

The allegations of campaign funding sent clandestinely from Caracas to Buenos Aires will give new ammunition to Chavez's critics who accuse him of meddling in other Latin American countries and using oil money to bolster alliances.

The revelations also will put Argentine President Cristina Fernandez on the defensive just days after she was sworn in as the country's first elected female president, succeeding her husband Nestor Kirchner.

The complaint said "neither the true source nor the intended recipient of those cash funds had been disclosed." Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Mulvihill said in court, however, that the FBI recorded a conversation in which one of those arrested said the Fernandez campaign was the intended recipient of the money, which was seized by Argentine customs authorities in August.

A presidential spokesman in Buenos Aires said Fernandez's office had no information about the charges and would look into the case before responding.

Charged with failing to register with the U.S. as agents of a foreign power were Venezuelans Moises Roman Majonica, 36; Franklin Duran, 40; and Carlos Kauffmann, 35; and Uruguayan citizen Rodolfo Wanseele, 40. All were arrested Tuesday night and will remain in custody pending a bail hearing Monday.

If convicted, they face up to 10 years in federal prison and $250,000 in fines.

The Venezuelan-American man who carried the suitcase, Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, is not charged in the case. Argentina asked the U.S. in August to extradite him on fraud charges, but the new case suggests the Miami businessman has gone from suspect to key witness.

As soon as the cash was seized, "we saw it as a political-media ambush," Maduro told state television. He blamed a U.S. "campaign that since August has sought to sully our government's relations with South America."

"We no longer have any doubt. The hand that was behind the campaign surrounding that famous suitcase has emerged," Maduro said.

Kenneth L. Wainstein, Assistant U.S. Attorney General for National Security, said the complaint "outlines an alleged plot by agents of the Venezuelan government to manipulate an American citizen in Miami in an effort to keep the lid on a burgeoning international scandal."

Prosecutors said in court that evidence against the men includes FBI recordings of conversations between some of them and senior officials in Venezuela's office of the vice president, intelligence service and justice ministry.

In repeated conversations with Antonini, the four allegedly sought to keep secret the Venezuelan source of the money.

The criminal complaint says Duran told Antonini the matter was being handled at "the top of the Venezuelan government."

The money was brought into Argentina aboard a plane chartered by Argentina's state energy company.

A call to Antonini's telephone number Wednesday was met with a recording saying it is now unlisted.

Majonica and Wanseele asked for the court to appoint them a lawyer at a brief hearing Wednesday. The attorney for Duran and Kauffmann, Michael Hacker, said his clients were innocent.

"They have led squeaky-clean lives," Hacker said.


Agencies

Güncelleme Tarihi: 13 Aralık 2007, 15:01
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