World » Americas
Author`s name Alex Naumov

Chavez faces sequence of scandals during four-nation South American swing

A top Argentinean official was sacked on Thursday for letting a Venezuelan businessman carry $800,000 in undeclared cash aboard a government-chartered flight that also boarded officials of the Venezuelan state oil giant PDVSA.

As tried to boost his oil-grounded influence in South America, the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez faced a succession of scandals during his visits to Argentina and Uruguay. A top Argentinean official was sacked on Thursday for letting a Venezuelan businessman carry $800,000 in undeclared cash aboard a government-chartered flight, while Uruguayan lawmakers investigate a shipment of Iranian munitions arriving from Caracas.

Claudio Uberti, who ran a regulatory body for Argentine toll roads, was asked to resign for letting the businessman join an official Argentine delegation on the flight chartered by state energy company Energia Argentina, Planning Minister Julio De Vido said. "We requested his resignation from his post and he has submitted it," De Vido told broadcaster Radio 10.

Also, in Uruguay, where Chavez said his country may invest in a plant to regasify liquid natural gas from Venezuela, local lawmakers were investigating the arriving of an unregistered shipment of Iranian munitions sent from Caracas.

When asked about the scandal in Argentina, Chavez replied that his government had nothing to do with the case. “This is an attempt of the (U.S.) imperialism to block regional integration”.

In fact, four top officials of the Venezuelan state oil giant, PDVSA, where on board of the private jet chartered by state energy company Energia Argentina (ENARSA), which arrived in Buenos Aires at an unusual time (3 a.m.) on Saturday. Among them was the son of PDVSA vice-president, Daniel Uzcateguy Speech, according to an official statement of ENARSA.

Argentine authorities also confirmed that the Venezuelan businessman who carried the suitcase with the $ 800,000 was Mr. Antonini Wilson. According to the statement, Mr Antonini Wilson boarded the jet as requested by Mr Uzcateguy Speech, the son of the vice-president of PDVSA.

Telam , Argentina 's government news agency, said Antonini Wilson was being investigated on suspicion of failing to declare a sum of money above $10,000 as required by law. Officials so far have given no explanation of why Antonini Wilson might have had the cash or what sort of business he is in.

The newspaper Clarin reported he was fined and a major part of the cash seized, but he was allowed to leave Monday on a commercial flight to Uruguay because there was no court order requiring him to remain. Authorities had no independent confirmation of the report. Wilson left the country and his whereabouts remained unclear Thursday.

Enarsa, said Wednesday that seven people were aboard the jet, including Uberti, Antonini Wilson, and three employees of the Venezuelan state oil monopoly Petroleos de Venezuela: Ms. Ruth Berhrrenes, Nelly Cardoso and Wilfredo Avila. Enarsa said it had rented the plane to ferry company officials, including its president, between the two capitals as they worked out the details of a liquid natural gas supply deal.

Also on Wednesday, opposition leaders in Congress blamed the Argentine government for its close ties with Chavez’s Venezuela. They also asked for detailed information about the various financial and trade operations between both governments, but the official majority blocked the bills.

Chavez was scheduled to travel to Ecuador and then on to Bolivia, where Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA plans joint projects with its smaller Bolivian counterpart, YPFB. Bolivian President Evo Morales said the two countries would launch joint oil and electrical companies this week with an initial investment of at least $670 million.

Chavez said the Argentine and Uruguayan plant proposals were being made since talks on a mammoth gas pipeline running the length of South America had gone "on recess."

Hernan Etchaleco