Argentine leader riled by US cash charge
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
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
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
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
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.