Early on the morning of Saturday August 4th 2007, a Cessna plane 750 X with license N 5113 S, property of “Royalclass” company arrived at Buenos Aires’ Newberry airport (Aeroparque) in Argentina. The aircraft had taken off from Maiquetía international airport near Caracas, Venezuela and landed in Buenos Aires two days before an official visit by Chávez . The passengers on the plane were seven Argentine and Venezuelan oil officials. Some of them had been in Caracas negotiating the bond and gas plant deals. When having to pass through Customs, most of the passengers made it without problems, except one, Venezuelan/American, Guido Antonini Wilson who told authorities that his briefcase was full of “books”. When searched, officials found it was stuffed with $790,550 in non-declared unmarked $50 bills. 
The Argentinian Justice has confirmed the names of the people aboard the aircraft that landed in Buenos Aires:
Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson. Mr. Wilson left for Montevideo 24 hours later. The FBI has located him in his residence in Miami, sources told Argentinian daily newspaper La Nación. To this date he has not been arrested. 
Claudio Uberti , director of the government agency which controls the freeway concessions (OCCOVI) in Argentina, a close contact of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Juan Mussa, a Peronist leader who was present at the time has denounced that Mr. Uberti threatened the customs agents not to check Antonini’s suitcase.
Ezequiel Espinosa, president of ENARSA, Argentina’s state Oil and Gas Company.
Victoria Bereziuk, a young employee of ENARSA, secretary of Ezequiel Espinosa who has been romantically linked to President Nestor Kirchner.
Daniel Uzcateguy Speech, son of vice president of PDVSA in Argentina. He supposedly invited Antonini Wilson to board the plane.
Another person under investigation for being connected to the people in the airplane is Julio De Vido, the Minister of Federal Planning, Kirchner’s right hand. 
There are many peculiarities regarding this incident. First of all, authorities learned that the plane had been chartered by ENARSA at a cost of $90,000 . The purpose of the flight to and from Caracas was to discuss the building of pipelines. On its way to Venezuela, Espinosa, Uberti and Victoria Beresiuk were on board to discuss the above mentioned agreements. Representatives of the company stated they chartered the plane “because there were not many convenient flights to Caracas”. ENARSA was created three years ago by President Kirchner. 
A day later the plane arrived in Aeroparque at 2:30 AM when the airport is normally closed. Usually, international flights do not land at Aeroparque but at Ezeiza International Airport. A special order was necessary to open the airport to receive the flight from Venezuela and to arrange for customs officials to be present. It took those officials three days before the incident was reported to the Justice Ministry.
According to official reports, the group, except Antonini Wilson who claimed to be a businessman and was briefly detained at Aeroparque, left the airport after picking up their luggage and passing through immigration. The only one that waited for Wilson was Daniel Uzcateguy Speech, son of the vice president of PDVSA Argentina who at the time claimed to be a nephew of Antonini. 
After customs officers confiscated the cash, they let Wilson go. The cash was deposited in a government account in Banco de la Nación, Argentina’s Central Bank. Customs stated publicly that at any time the Venezuelans wanted to, they can come and pick up $400,000 and go since the fine for a “customs infraction” is 50% of the total amount. As of today, no one has appeared to claim the cash. 
An Argentinean TV station, America TV, has revealed declarations from the officers who stopped Antonini Wilson. These statements were then given to Prosecutor Luz Rivas Diez. One airport security officer said Antonini had confessed having a meeting with Hugo Chavez where he was informed about the flight to Argentina. Wilson said he had no time to gather winter clothes because when he arrived in Caracas from Miami, he had to go to a meeting with President Chavez and there he was advised about the trip. 
The first judge assigned to investigate the case, Marta Novatti, resigned saying she was being harassed by Ricardo Echegaray, the director of Customs who reportedly is a big supporter of Kirchner. Novatti said that she has been subjected to a climate of “moral violence.”  In addition, sources say that there were several “errors” with the paperwork related to the bust, which may make it difficult to convict Antonini Wilson. Even more unusual, the official report states that Antonini never tried to hide what was in his bag, so customs is considering the incident a “luggage infraction” and not a crime. 
Who is Guido Antonini Wilson?
Guido Antonini Wilson is 46 years old and is a partner in the Venezuelan Oil Company, VENOCO, together with Carlos Kauffman. Mr. Kauffman is a well known entrepreneur with very close ties to the Chavez Regime. Wilson and Kauffman reportedly carry badges from the Venezuelan Intelligence Agency, DISIP.  In addition, Antonini has a company in Venezuela dedicated to the “sale, distribution, and import and export of military and police armament” called “Defensa y Tecnología.” He has attended preliminary negotiations for Chávez-Kirchner agreements on energy and finance, which were also attended by Claudio Uberti. Wilson has an exclusive condo in Ocean Club, Key Biscayne, Florida and his name is linked to other companies in southern Florida, such as Venuz Supply Inc., Intertel Telecom and Techmilk Inc. Venezuelan public records show he is registered to vote at the Venezuelan consulate in Miami. 
Luis Ignacio Planas, secretary-general of the opposition Copei party of Venezuela, claimed that there is a “serious” direct link between President Hugo Chávez and businessman, Guido Antonini. “The President of the Republic was aware of the money that would be brought into Argentina and – even worse – he instructed Antonini to take that money to Buenos Aires,” said Planas. The opposition leader prompted a query about the intended use of the cash and wondered if it would back political activities in other countries, such as the presidential campaign of Cristina Kirchner in Argentina. 
Who is Claudio Uberti?
Claudio Uberti is an Argentinean and the director of a government agency that since November, 2003 controls all freeway concessions (OCCOVI) and is in charge of collecting the fees on every toll booth of every road, highway and bridge in the country. OCCOVI has become extremely important since it manages millions of dollars. Uberti is a trusted official and personal friend of the Minister of Planning, Julio De Vido, Kirchner’s right hand man. Uberti was present at every single agreement signing between the Argentinian Government and Hugo Chavez and Minister De Vido is behind all contacts of the Argentinian government with Venezuela. 
Elisa Carrió , who is now running for president in Argentina, remembered that in 2004, two congress members from the ” Afirmación para una República Igualitaria” (ARI) party, Adrián Pérez and Fabiana Ríos denounced Uberti, claiming he collected illegal money for the Presidential campaign of Néstor Kirchner. 
The Argentinean Government’s Response
After two days of strict orders not to inform the press, Kirchner waited for Chávez to leave the country and then ordered the people involved in the scandal to prepare a written statement of what happened. ENARSA issued the communiqué denying any links with the cash. Planning Minister Julio De Vido said Uberti was asked to resign because he made a “mistake” by permitting Antonini to board the plane . Uberti agreed to step down. De Vido must have known about the illegal transfer, since those familiar with the Kirchner regime say that nothing happens without De Vido’s approval. 
Kirchner defended his administration, vowing to get to the bottom of events. “I don’t cover anything up. When something happens, the people find out as they should find out and we take the corresponding measures,” he said. Senator Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is the front-runner to succeed her husband in the Oct. 28th presidential election. But the scandal prompted opposition candidate Roberto Lavagna and others to call for a full investigation. Mr. Kirchner’s chief of staff, Alberto Fernández, “asked” Venezuelans to apologize for the incident, saying that Argentina had “done everything that it needed to do;” but his plea fell on deaf ears since Venezuela has denied any involvement whatsoever.  Former “piquetero” Luis D’Elía, who refers to Hugo Chávez as “Compañero” (comrade), a former Kirchner official whose leftist group is rumored to be financed by Chávez, said that “the bagman was planted by the CIA” to hurt the Kirchner-Chávez relationship. 
PDVSA Argentina has denied any connection with Antonini Wilson. However, news reports in Argentina and Uruguay claimed that Antonini Wilson’s hotel bills and other expenses in Montevideo had been paid for by the Venezuelan oil company, PDVSA. A warrant has been issued for Wilson’s arrest by an Argentine court and Prosecutor Luz Rivas Diez said she wants to have him detained so he can answer questions about the cash. Critics of the Argentine first couple said the incident proves that Chavez is buying the support of the Kirchner government. 
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, they have already notified the Federal Police, via Interpol, that Antonini was apprised of a bench warrant issued by an Argentinian judge. Antonini cannot leave the United States or his home. On September 1st 2007, Argentina’s ministry of Foreign Relations formally requested Antonini’s extradition.  Some analysts remain skeptical this will actually occur. Others believe that this is a tactic to distract the public.
Cristina Kirchner apparently reacted violently after the suitcase incident was revealed. It is reported that she even broke three glasses yelling at her husband which prompted the intervention of some of the people present. Sources close to the government say Mrs. Kirchner’s outburst is understandable considering that this episode could damage her reputation and her chances of winning the election. But what left witnesses confused was that she seemed to be extremely upset by the presence of Victoria Bereziuk in the flight because of her closeness to President Kirchner. 
PDVSA’s Preferential Treatment in Argentina
The public was astounded to learn that PDVSA flights have enjoyed an incredible privilege in Argentina. PDVSA passengers are allowed to land in the military area at the Metropolitan airport, an area reserved for official planes. While customs and migration requirements are fulfilled, the luggage is not thoroughly controlled or scanned. If it were not for the suitcase scandal, the preferential treatment conferred on PDVSA flights and passengers would sure continue. Based on sources that are well acquainted with the airport traffic, “over the past few months, at least eights flights of PDVSA have landed in the military area.” 
The Chavez’s Regime Response
Roberto Hernández, vice president of Venezuela’s lower house, said President Chávez “doesn’t have to say sorry” to anyone because the cash found on Antonini was a personal matter. Petróleos de Venezuela (Pdvsa) issued a press release reporting the resignation of Diego Uzcátegui Mateus as managing director of the Pdvsa unit in Argentina. Uzcátegui’s decision to quit was accepted “in order to facilitate the investigation.” It is important to note that Venezuelan law prohibits carrying more than US$10,000 in cash and such a sum should have been declared upon leaving.  Average citizens find it harder than ever to get hold of any foreign currency.
The warrant against Antonini, who happens to hold U.S. citizenship, is particularly important because of his links to Hugo Chávez and various high ranking Argentinian officials. In addition, the incident occurred just a few months before the presidential election in Argentina. The good news is that Argentinian Customs functioned despite pressure from influential passengers. Uberti’s interference, however, suggests the complicity of some other passengers. There is reason to believe that this has not been the first cash transfer and that we are talking about cash smuggling on a larger scale.
Andrés Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald argues that the money could have been intended for the campaign of first lady Cristina Kirchner or for pro-Chávez groups such as D’Elía’s, “piquetero” movement or may be a kickback to Argentine government officials for a business deal. The first option seems rather unlikely, despite what appears to be incriminating evidence, since the Kirchners would presumably be too prudent to topple a successful campaign by accepting any illegal assistance through Chavez linked representatives. The latter possibility is much more likely, though. The Venezuelan government has a track record of subsidizing politically close clients, thus increasing their stakes in Latin American neighbor states and influencing the policy of local decision makers in their favor; through financed proxies. This is the plausible pattern of a financially well equipped, aspiring hegemon.
Others say that the money could be a bribe for ENARSA because if it had been clean, it would have been done by wire transfer. This could be true, since Venezuela tries to get constant Latin American customers for the future, a future where the US might consider other sellers. The Venezuelan government has been well instructed by the Russian example as to how to exercise influence in Eastern and Western Europe. The idea that Latin America needs Chavez like Europe needs Putin is quite tempting for a leader whose aspirations are clearly bigger than his country. Circumstantial evidence, such as the aforementioned prior meeting between Antonini and Chavez might be pointing in this direction.
Another possibility might just be that some renegade PDVSA officials wanted to get some cash out of the party, creating personal reserves for a foreseeable end of the Venezuelan bonanza. Following Antonini’s fate upon his return to Venezuela might give some hints as to whether that might be true.
It remains to be seen if the people involved can reveal more details of this bizarre affair when the investigation begins. Regardless, analysts have been arguing for months now that Chavez has spent millions of dollars trying to influence elections in several countries, such as Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua and there have been widespread opposition claims that pro-Chávez candidates had received suitcases filled with cash from Venezuela. These allegations have been denied by the parties involved. But the Antonini case demonstrates clearly how Venezuelans are trying to influence other countries’ political life, and about how it spreads its massive corruption to countries in the region. 
El trámite que desató el escándalo. August 9, 2007. Diario La Nación, Argentina.
Antonini Wilson presumably found in Miami. August 28, 2007. El Universal.
Involucra al Gobierno el caso de la valija con dólares. August 9, 2007. Diario La Nación, Argentina.
El trámite que desató el escándalo. August 9, 2007. Diario La Nación, Argentina.
Involucra al Gobierno el caso de la valija con dólares. August 9, 2007. Diario La Nación, Argentina.
COPEI denuncia vinculación directa entre Chávez y Antonini. August 20, 2007.
Se apartó la jueza y el caso se demora. August 11, 2007. Diario Clarín, Argentina.
Errores más que notorios. August 15, 2007. Diario La Nación, Argentina.
Un millonario con lazos políticos y fama de aventurero. August 9, 2007. Diario La Nación, Argentina.
La sombra de la corrupción: aparece en 4 empresas registradas en Florida. Aug. 11, 2007. Diario Clarín, Argentina.
COPEI exige investigar la presunta conexión. August 21, 2007. El Universal, Venezuela.
El misterioso señor de los peajes. August 9, 2007. Diario La Nación, Argentina.
Críticas de la oposición por la situación de Uberti. August 9, 2007. Diario La Nación, Argentina.
Public prosecutor applies for international arrest of Antonini Wilson. August 14, 2007. El Universal, Venezuela.
Niega Kirchner vínculo con caso dólares. August 11, 2007. El Universal, Mexico.
Suitcase of cash shows Chávez’s ways. August 16, 2007. Miami Herald. By Andres Oppenheimer.
Argentina wants to arrest Venezuelan businessman. August 15, 2007. Miami Herald.
Cancillería envió a los EEUU el pedido de extradición del venezolano Antonini Wilson. Sept, 1st, 2007. Infobae.
Secretaria de alto vuelo. August 18, 2007. Revista “Noticias,” Argentina.
Oscuros privilegios de Pdvsa. August 23, 2007. Diario La Nación, Argentina.
Pdvsa VP resignation confirmed. August 18, 2007. El Universal, Venezuela.
THE AMERICAS REPORT
NANCY MENGES and
LUIS FLEISCHMAN, Editors
The Americas Report is the featured product of the Center for Security Policy‘s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. It features in-depth, original articles on subjects not regularly covered by the American press.
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