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Argentine leader riled by US cash charge

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071213/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/argentina_cash_suitcase Argentine leader riled by US cash charge By BILL CORMIER and IAN JAMES,
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 13, 2007

      Argentine leader riled by US cash charge

      By BILL CORMIER and IAN JAMES, Associated Press
      Writers Thu Dec 13, 5:54 PM ET

      BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - Argentina's new president
      reacted furiously Thursday to accusations by U.S.
      prosecutors that an intercepted suitcase full of cash
      from Venezuela was meant to finance her election
      campaign, calling the charge "garbage in international

      Aides to President Cristina Fernandez accused
      Washington of using a "vile trick" to smear her
      government for its close ties to Venezuela's leftist
      leader, Hugo Chavez, who is campaigning to reduce U.S.
      influence in Latin America.

      Fernandez, one of only two female heads of state in
      Latin America, suggested the charges might have been
      directed at her in part because of her gender.

      "This president may be a woman, but she's not going to
      allow herself to be pressured," Fernandez said,
      glaring at the cameras. She denounced the U.S.
      criminal complaint, but did not address the substance
      of the charges — that foreigners secretly tried to
      fund her campaign.

      Instead, she signaled she intended to draw even closer
      to Chavez, vowing to "continue affirming our relation
      of friendship with all Latin American countries and
      also with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela."

      Chavez also didn't mention the accusations in a speech
      Thursday, but praised Fernandez as a "lightning bolt."

      The charges of a clandestine attempt to contribute
      nearly $800,000 in August put both the Argentine and
      Venezuelan governments on the defensive as opponents
      sought to turn the case into a political liability.

      Fernandez appeared taken off guard by the charge that
      surfaced just two days after her inauguration. Her
      opponents demanded that Argentine authorities take
      testimony from four men charged in Miami with
      orchestrating a cover-up with top Venezuelan officials
      after the undeclared cash was seized by Argentine

      It's not against Argentine law for foreigners to
      contribute to a presidential campaign, but it is
      illegal to do so secretly. It also is illegal to bring
      undeclared cash into the country.

      In a Florida court Wednesday, U.S. prosecutors accused
      the men of being illegal agents of a foreign
      government and said recorded conversations indicated
      the scheme reached the highest levels of the
      Venezuelan government.

      The Venezuelan-American businessman who carried the
      suitcase, Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, is not
      charged and appears to be a key witness in the case.
      He is named in an extradition request by Argentina,
      where he is wanted on fraud charges.

      Fernandez's husband, then-President Nestor Kirchner,
      said in August that his government had "nothing to do"
      with the cash suitcase episode.

      On Thursday, top officials dismissed the claim.
      Justice Minister Anibal Fernandez called the
      accusation "an enormous dirty trick."

      Interior Minister Florencio Randazzo, meanwhile, said
      Antonini should be extradited. "It now seems the U.S.
      justice system wants to protect the one who in reality
      they should extradite," he said.

      Venezuelan Information Minister Willian Lara denied
      any link between the money and Chavez's government,
      saying the four men are not its agents and calling the
      charges "U.S. propagandistic trash." Lara told The
      Associated Press that the U.S. is trying to link
      Venezuela to the case "pulling by the hair."

      State Department spokesman Sean McCormack denied any
      political motives: "This is not an issue of
      U.S.-Argentine relations. This is a matter of U.S. law
      enforcement enforcing U.S. laws."

      But McCormack also lashed out at Chavez for doing what
      the charges suggest.

      "We have talked about their interference in the
      affairs of other countries. They have tried to insert
      themselves into various elections throughout the
      region and in several cases it has backfired," he

      The money seizure led to the firing of an Argentine
      official for letting Antonini carry the cash aboard a
      chartered flight with Argentine officials and
      employees of Venezuela's state oil company, Petroleos
      de Venezuela SA. PDVSA's top manager in Argentina also
      stepped down.

      The scandal offers a glimpse into the sort of shadowy
      transactions that have long haunted Latin American
      governments. Its colorful cast of characters includes
      members of a new Venezuelan elite that has grown
      wealthy during Chavez's "Bolivarian Revolution" — a
      class dubbed the "Boli-bourgeoisie" by his critics.

      Some of the suspects in Miami have prospered doing
      business with Venezuela's state oil company, which
      bankrolls Chavez's government. According to the U.S.
      criminal complaint, suspect Franklin Duran identified
      the person who carried the cash aboard the plane as an
      assistant to PDVSA's chief executive.

      Both Duran and another Venezuelan suspect, Carlos
      Kauffmann, are shareholders in the Venezuelan
      petrochemical company Venoco and have done business
      with PDVSA. Kauffmann also has a stake in
      Perforaciones Alborz CA, which has supplied drills to

      Both men have personal and professional ties to
      Antonini, who carried the suitcase.

      The three competed together in the Gumball 3000 road
      rally in Europe and last year raced two Porsches
      representing the Venoco team, teammate and investment
      broker Antonio Pardo told AP. A red Ferrari used by
      Antonini's team in another race bore a sticker with a
      logo used by Chavez's government.

      An attorney for Duran and Kauffmann said his clients
      are innocent.

      Duran, who is listed in Venezuela as owner of the arms
      importer Ruibal y Duran, was investigated by
      Venezuelan lawmakers in 2003 for allegedly importing
      115 Uzis without permission for police in the state of
      Cojedes. That investigation was set aside without
      finding wrongdoing.

      Cojedes state Gov. Jhonny Yanez Rangel has said Duran
      also sold weapons to Venezuela's Defense Ministry.


      Associated Press writers Bill Cormier reported from
      Buenos Aires and Ian James from Caracas, Venezuela. AP
      writer Fabiola Sanchez also contributed to this story.
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