While the name of the game in Venezuela today was simply denial on the matter of the suitcase with US$ 800,000 in cash which a Venezuelan passenger took to Argentina, the case had a life of its own in Argentina where, despite apparent initial pressure to have the case hushed, hell has broken loose by now, not the least because that country is in the midst of a Presidential campaign that involves the President’s wife as the leading candidate.
First of all, the case has taken such huge proportions in that country that President Kirchner himself felt forced to comment on it, saying that he had no reason to cover up anything because he has fought and is fighting corruption in that country. But note at the end, the comment by the Chief of Kirchner’s Cabinet who says: “There was an abuse of the good faith of the Argentinean officials on the part of the Venezuelan ones”. Note he does not say Venezuelan citizens, but “funcionarios” which I have loosely translated as officials, but you could translate as employees. But he is clearly saying these people were there is some official capacity.
Then of course, we had the first casualty in the case in that country when Claudio Uberti was forced to resign. Uberti who has been described as an adviser to the Ministry of Planning of Argentina, actually held an important position as Head of the “Ã“rgano de Control
de Concesiones Viales” or Organization for the control of road concessions, in charge of all toll roads in that country.
However, Uberti was also an adviser to the Ministry of Planning of that country who had “specialized” in running joint projects between Venezuela and Argentina, signing and negotiating as many as 10 deals between the two countries. In 2003, Uberti was accused of corruption relating to the campaign contributions to Kirchner’s campaign but was never convicted. He was considered to be the right hand of the Minister of Planning and in 2005 was thought to be the sure candidate to become Argentina’s Ambassador to Venezuela, but a woman beat him to the post reportedly at Chavez’ request. Uberti has been a go-between of Argentina in deals with Venezuela, particularly in the oil area. He was on the plane coming back from Venezuela as part of the Enarsa delegation. Enarsa was a special purpose company created for joint oil projects with Venezuela.
Meanwhile, in Argentina today, the case against the Venezuelan man with the suitcase, Guido Antonini, moved forward when it was decided to accuse him of attempt to smuggle the money. Antonini, who is no longer in Argentina, travelled to Uruguay, coincidentally Chavez’ next stop in his trip and has not been seen since. When he was questioned at customs, he simply left the money behind and fled that country. The document signed at customs says Antonini did not try to hide the money, but did not declare it, violating the law
Meanwhile, additional information reported today says that he only has a minor participation in local petrochemical company Venoco, he lives in Florida and his main area of business is in the area of armored and protection vehicles as representative of Armor Holdings.What is known is that Antonini deals a lot with the Government and has business partners who are well known to be important intermediaries of various “businesses” of the robolution.
Meanwhile little has been said about the PDVSA employees who got the free ride in the plane rented by Enarsa. One is the public relations officer for PDVSA, another is the PDVSA representative in Uruguay and the third one was legal counsel to PDVSA. The fourth PDVSA related person was the son of a high level PDVSA executive.
About the only Government official that seems intent in doing his job is the Head of the Tax Office. Jose Vielma Mora, who is in charge of custom offices around the country. He said that the plane had taken off the Charallave airport, known as as Aeropuerto Caracas, a privately run airport about an hour and a half away from Caracas. But tonight the General manager of that airport denied this was the case. He stated that the airplane resides at Government run Maiquetia airport and took off from there. In either case, it is the National Guard and the Minister of Finance who are in charge of the procedures when leaving or arriving in the country and one wonders why Vielma was given the wrong information, which only throws more confusion into the case.
That there has been an attempt to cover up the whole thing has been clear from the beginning. The Venezuelan Ambassador to Argentina initially said there were no Venezuelan officials in the plane, which has been shown not to be the case. Then Chavez claimed this was a media invention. By now, the Prosecutor is skirting the issue and the Vice-President says this is all a smokescreen. Clearly there is no interest in delving deeper in this case because it may involve high level Government officials. Kirchner dealt with the case the smart way by getting rid of Uberti. The robolution doesn’t want to do it in another indication of the presence of high level corruption.
Fortunately, the Argentinean authorities will keep us informed of all the sordid details.
And so will we…