U.S. authorities confirmed Wednesday that they had arrested three Venezuelans and an Uruguayan citizen in Miami who allegedly tried to cover up a scandal of $800,000 in cash sent by the Venezuelan government to Argentina to finance a political campaign. Later, US prosecutors said to news agencies that the money was aimed at financing the campaign of former Argentine first lady and new President Cristina Kirchner.
The four men were arrested on Tuesday night and charged with failing to register with the United States as agents of a foreign government -- Venezuela. They face 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, U.S. federal prosecutors said in a statement.
Venezuela and Argentina denounced the arrests as a Washington campaign to destroy their bilateral ties. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said in a telephone interview on state television that the arrests showed that the suitcase full of cash was a U.S. ambush. "This makes really clear the role ... of the United States government which has been on this campaign since August trying to smear the relations of our governments in South America," Maduro said. On Thursday, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, said the case was an example “of the existence of rubbish in foreign policies”.
In fact, the scandal broke in August when Argentine customs agents seized $800,000 in cash found in the suitcase of Venezuelan-American businessman Guido Antonini Wilson when he arrived at an airport in Buenos Aires. Antonini, who lives in Florida, was flying with Argentine and Venezuelan government officials on a jet chartered by the Argentine government.
The case was considered by the Argentine opposition as “part of non-transparent businesses held by Argentine and Venezuelan authorities”. In the plane was traveling a key official of the Argentine government, known as the contact between former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner and Chavez, Claudio Uberti. He was quickly sacked form his post.
After Antonini abandoned the cash and returned to Florida, Venezuelan agents held a series of meetings with him there to pressure him to conceal that the Venezuelan government was the source of the money, according to an FBI affidavit. U.S. federal prosecutors said in a statement that the Venezuelans were "operating illegally in South Florida as agents of foreign powers."
Moises Maionica, 36, Rodolfo Edgardo Wanseele Paciello, 40, Franklin Duran, 40, and Carlos Kauffmann, 35, were arrested. Another man, Antonio Jose Canchica Gomez, 37, was also charged but remained at large.
Argentine courts asked Washington for the extradition of Mr. Antonini Wilson, the man who was carrying the suitcase, but Washington did not reply to the requirement. In declarations to the local press, Argentine officials said off the record that Antonini might be a CIA agent.
The FBI affidavit says Antonini was threatened that if he told the truth about the money authorities in both Argentina and Venezuela would pursue him and that his children could be harmed. U.S. prosecutors say the Venezuelans told Antonini that they represented top levels of government in Caracas and that the money was for a presidential campaign in Argentina.
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