Maletinazo, or the suitcase scandal, is a 2007 scandal involving Venezuela and Argentina, souring friendship between the countries. The word comes from maletin (the Spanish word for suitcase or briefcase) and the suffix -azo which implies a blow or event of some magnitude. It is also known as valijagate, maletagate and maletingate (following the -gate construction and the Spanish word maleta or valija for suitcase or briefcase). The scandal began when Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, a Venezuelan-US entrepreneur, arrived in Argentina on a private flight hired by Argentine and Venezuelan state officials carrying US$800,000 in cash which he failed to declare.
President Hugo Chavez was planning to visit Argentina in August 2007 to refinance billions of USdollars in Argentinian debt through bond purchases and announce a natural gas deal.
On August 4, 2007, Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, a Venezuelan-US entrepreneur claiming to be part of Chavez's entourage, arrived in Argentina on a private flight from Royal Class hired by Argentinian and Venezuelan state officials carrying US$790,550 in cash. He did not declare the money upon arrival and the police decommissioned the money. Other Venezuelan passengers included Ruth Berhrrenes, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) representative in Uruguay; Nelly Cardozo, legal assessor of that company; Wilfredo Avila, a protocol official; and Daniel Uzcategui Specht, son of PDVSA's vice-president Diego Uzcategui and Maria Isabel Specht, Technology and Engineering Manager of Citgo Petroleum Corporation in Houston, Texas. Others on that flight were the president of Enarsa, Exequiel Espinosa, Claudio Uberti (OCCOVI) and Victoria Bereziuk, his secretary. Although officials originally called it a simple infraction and released Antonini Wilson, both Argentinean and Venezuelan officials called for an investigation.
Chavez arrived in Argentina on August 6, 2007, as part of a tour to sign oil deals with several South American countries. Antonini Wilson was in the signing ceremony between the presidents of Argentina and Venezuela that took place in the presidential palace, also known as casa rosada. On August 8, the Argentine senate demanded a report on the incident.
An Argentine judge later ordered the arrest of Antonini Wilson and he is facing charges for money laundering and contraband.Ortiz, Fiona. "Suitcase of cash sparks new scandal in Argentina". Reuters, August 9 2007. Retrieved on 2007-08-22.
Initially, Argentinian judge Marta Novatti took the case but she quickly resigned from the investigation. The Argentinian government fired one of the state officials who was on the plane, the head of Road Deal Controls, Claudio Uberti. Argentinian Minister of Planning, Julio de Vido, declared that Uberti was the "political responsible for that flight"; Uberti was fired.
The Argentine minister of interior, Fernandez, declared the Senate's attempts to ask for a report on an individual, even if it is a crime case. He said the demand was politically motivated (referring to upcoming elections in Argentina).
PDVSA announced an internal investigation to determine why four of their officials were traveling with Antonini Wilson.
On August 13, 2007, Federal judge Diego Zysman stepped aside from the case, becoming the second judge to renounce investigating the case. Judge Novatti was notified by the Judicial Chamber of Economic Cases on August 14, 2007, that she had to take back the case.
The Bolivian government declared the plane carrying Antonini Wilson to Buenos Aires only flew over Bolivia and did not land there, after some suggestions by Venezuelan officials that the money might have come from Bolivia (it would have been illegal to take that amount of money from Venezuela under current currency control laws.
According to documents from the Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela from 8 December 2004, an associate of Antonini, sold through a Venezuelan company Ruibal & Duran police equipment to the governor of Cojedes state, Johny Yanez, who days before declared that he did not have anything to do with Antonini. Clarin newspaper said Antonini had accompanied Yanez on a visit to Uruguay in September 2006.
Argentina sent an arrest warrant to Interpol for the arrest of Antonini; Interpol released a capture order for the offense of fraud.
The investigation in Argentina generated doubt regarding the behavior of members of the Kirchner administration. The investigation is also trying to determine why Enarsa spent $90,000 for a charter flight, and why Antonini Wilson was allowed to leave Argentina outbound to Uruguay.
Venezuela has had strict foreign currency controls since 2003. The current regulation forbids taking more than US$10,000 in cash without declaring the money. Venezuelans can in principle only take 600 cash out of the country in a single trip and there is a yearly quota of US$8,000 on credit card expenditures. A special government permit is needed to take additional US dollars out of the country.
Antonini Wilson background
Antonini Wilson has an exclusive condo in Ocean Club, Key Biscayne, Florida. Together with Wladimir Abad, he is registered as owner of a building located in Mashta Avenue, in Key Biscayne, valued at $US3.96 million, according to El Nuevo Herald. Wladimir Abad is the secretary of American Food Grain (AFG), a part of a Venezuelan holding called Proarepa, owned by Sarkis Arslanian Beyloune and Ricardo Fernandez Barrueco. Proarepa was in charge of the food distribution during Venezuela's oil strike of 2002, when Chavez signed important contracts for food distribution. According to the Venezuelan Government Press Office, Proarepa is a private company that has "joined this mission (Mission Mercal) to offer food and better price to the Venezuelan consumer".
In May of 2007, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) confiscated a jet belonging to American Food Grain. The report, according to The Miami Herald, says Ricardo Fernandez Barruecos had not respected federal norms to register the plane in the United States.
Antonini Wilson's name is linked to other companies in southern Florida, such as Venuz Supply Inc., Intertel Telecom and Techmilk Inc.
The Venezuelan ambassador in Buenos Aires declared that Antonini Wilson had nothing to do with the Venezuelan embassy.
Argentine President Nestor Kirchner declared his government had nothing to do with the affair, and that there was no coverup. Venezuela's Minister of Foreign Affairs declared during the third meeting of Petrocaribe, "why is there such a scandal? Every day things like this happen in all the countries of the world". He said the reason for the publicity was that "some powerful people in Washington are very nervous because we are progressing in giant steps towards the union of South American countries, of the Caribbean union. They are afraid and they tremble".
The head of PDVSA, Ramirez, declared "the media is trying to put PDVSA in a bad light for events that are 'completely false'," referring to the recent denouncements of corruption at the state oil company. He said "we see how there is premeditated attempt to publicly lynch our institution and our workers for facts that have not been supported or proved". The second vice-president of Venezuela's parliament, Roberto Hernandez, declared on 10 August that those PDVSA managers who accompanied Antonini Wilson should be fired.
The crisis prompted the Argentinian government to ask Chavez to fire the person responsible for PDVSA in Argentina. The PDVSA official's son had accompanied Antonini Wilson to the flight. Other high officials from the Venezuelan and Argentinian governments were present.
The Venezuelan Minister of Interior declared that if there were a crime in cooperation with public functionaries, "the State does not have to assume any responsibility because responsibility is individual". He said it is false the Argentinian government was asking for the vice-president of PDVSADiego Uzcategui, whose son was traveling with Guido Antoninito be fired.
On 18 August, president Chavez declared he had nothing to hide. There is currently an election campaign in Argentina and governmental officials are saying the whole issue has been exaggerated by the opposition.
The scandal of Maletinazo led to a protest in the Venezuelan capital Caracas. The opposition leadership gathered in a plaza to denounce the corruption present in PDVSA.
Involvement of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
On Wednesday December 13, 2007 the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) arrested three Venezuelans and one Uruguayan accusing them of being agents of the Venezuelan government who intended to look for Antonini to help cover up the scandal of the money that was intended for "a candidate" in the Argentine presidential elections of 2007. The men arrested in Miami were charged with acting as agents of Venezuela's government and failing to register themselves as such.
The Attorney general in charge of the case Thomas Mulvihill said that one of the arrested individuals, named Franklin Duran had declared that the money was for the then presidential candidate Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. The Ambassador of the United States to Argentina Earl Antonhy Wayne assured that this had nothing to do with the Argentina-United States relations.
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner responded to the investigation led by the United States by dubbing it "operacion basura" (a "trashing operation").
El Universal - The case of the suitcase
Ruibal & Duran C.A Official Website
Relacion Franklin Duran - Omar Camero (Dueno de Televen)Imputados Ruibal & Duran vs Ameripack Services Venezuela C.A
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Maletinazo