Friday, October 05, 2007

"Suitcase-Gate" Venezuelan Government Now Wants Crony Extradited To Argentina

Remember Guido Antonini Wilson? He is the Key Biscayne, Florida, Venezuelan-American caught in Buenos Aires with 800k in cash in a private plane full of top Venezuelan and Argentinian functiona ries. The Chavez government, through Venezuelan attorney General weighs in on

They are asking the US to extradite Antonini to Argentina where he is sought in charges of money laundering. The official, Isais Rodriguez, claims they want to "clear up why he did not declare that money, establish why he brought it, for what it was [meant] for....whether he was there to "launder money or launder consciences".

In Argentina this is a major scandal; if came right after multinational execs, and a Kirchner cabinet member in separate events were caught with large sums of cash. Argentina wants Antonini extradited to the US.

While Chavez has avoided much of a scandal at home, it has been an international embarrasment, followed up by a report by Transparency International naming Venezuela as one of the most corrupt governments in the world. It also raised the issue of Chavez involving himself in political campaigns, and financing of hard-left groups. But up to now they have managed to contain the damage, by distancing themselves from Antonini. They have also claimed not having jurisidiction over Antonini, a US Citizen and residing in Florida.

Why Venezuela suddenly changed course is unclear. What is clear is that Antonini did business with a circle of companies and individuals close to the Chavista leadership, who got large contracts with the oil-rich state. The businessman obviously beneffited; he went from a modest distributor of tractor parts, to owning millions of dollars worth of condos in luxurious Key Biscayne in a couple of years.

Had this money been on route to Miami or the Caymans, you could chalk it up to money laundering. But it was going to Argentina on a plane full or Venezuelan and Argentinian officials. Some theorized it was a campaign contribution to Mrs. Kirchner, payments to radical mass movements allied of Chavez, or to pay some sort of business deal. Antonini told customs in Argentina that right before this trip, he had been at a luncheon with Chavez and was then and there told to go to Argentina, not even having time to bring a coat along. Antonini - by many accounts an affable fellow - had some level of confidence with top government officials in Venezuela, since he had made several trips to Uruguay and Argentina - accompanied by top Venezuelan officials.

This is a messy picture, it is hard to tell Chavista Official from pro-Chavez businessman, sanctioned or un-sanctioned business, official foreign policy from covert foreign policy, international trade or bribery.

It all boils down to what Antonini knows, and to who he says it to. At the moment the FBI (and one imagines the CIA) are talking to him - and Venezuela's government has a lot of reasons to be concerned. There is an unconfirmed report in South Florida's Venezuelan (anti-Chavez)press, that Antonini has already told them that he was not the "bagman", but was the designated fall guy when it became clear the passengers were going to be searched. That would directly place Argentine or Venezuelan officials with the 800K in cash.
These same reports in Miami also say that Antonini has already given up quite a bit to the Feds: not only Chavista corruption, but also payoffs to foreign governments and leaders. Venezuela's government has million$ of ways to convince him, and something might be worked out with Argentina. You never know, but the guy knows enough to have both governments worried.