Chavez, Ar­gen­tine leader em­bar­rassed by $800,000 scan­dal

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Martin Arostegui

SANTA CRUZ, Bo­livia — An $800,000 scan­dal is em­bar­rass­ing the gov­ern­ments of Ar­gentina and Venezuela, where Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez is try­ing to pass it off as a U.S. plot to un­der­mine in­creas­ingly close ties be­tween the two coun­tries.

“They are start­ing to say that they were dol­lars of Chavez, try­ing to stain the gov­ern­ment of Ar­gentina and Venezuela and, what’s even more, try­ing to make us fight as if we were chil­dren,” Mr. Chavez said Aug. 19 on his weekly TV show, “Hello Pres­i­dent.”

“We have noth­ing to hide, as [Ar­gen­tine Pres­i­dent Nestor] Kirch­ner said. Ab­so­lutely noth­ing.”

The re­marks did noth­ing to ease the dis­com­fort of Mr. Kirch­ner and his wife, Sen. Cristina Fer­nan­dez de Kirch­ner, a lead­ing can­di­date to suc­ceed her hus­band in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions next year.

A high-level source in that coun­try said the cash, found in the brief­case of a Venezue­lan state oil com­pany con­trac­tor at a Buenos Aires air­port three weeks ago, was des­tined to help fi­nance an Ar­gen­tine state com­pany, En­er­gia Ar­gentina S.A. (Enarsa).

The source also charged that some of the money was in­tended for the cam­paign of Mrs. Kirch­ner, whom Mr. Chavez en­dorsed dur­ing a re­cent visit to Buenos Aires.

An Ar­gen­tine judge has or­dered the ar­rest of Guido Ale­jan­dro An­tonini Wil­son, the Venezue­lan busi­ness­man who was caught with $800,000 in cash in his suit­case when he landed in Buenos Aires on Aug. 4. Mr. An­tonini has been re­ported to be in Venezuela or Mi­ami.

On Aug. 22, the in­ter­na­tional po­lice co­or­di­nat­ing agency In­ter­pol said an in­ter­na­tional ar­rest war­rant has been is­sued for Mr. An­tonini, wanted in Ar­gentina on fraud charges.

In a post­ing on its Web site, In­ter­pol urged any­one with in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing Mr. An­tonini’s where­abouts to con­tact lo­cal po­lice or In­ter­pol’s Gen­eral Sec­re­tariat in France.

The busi­ness­man ar­rived on a char­tered plane car­ry­ing of­fi­cials of the Venezue­lan oil com­pany Petroleos de Venezuela, S. A. (PDVSA). Ar­gentina’s main news­pa­per, La Na­cion, re­ported that the Fal­con jet was char­tered by Enarsa, which is in­volved in a new joint ven­ture to ex­tract nat­u­ral gas from Bo­livia.

Days be­fore the smug­gling at­tempt was un­cov­ered, Mr. Chavez ar­rived in Buenos Aires to pur­chase $500 mil­lion in gov­ern­ment bonds from Mr. Kirch­ner, in ef­fect pro­vid­ing a loan to the cash­strapped gov­ern­ment. A Venezue­lan bond pur­chase in De­cem­ber 2005 helped Ar­gentina pay off a $9.8 bil­lion debt to the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund.

Mr. Chavez and Mr. Kirch­ner then trav­eled to Bo­livia’s south­east prov­ince of Tar­ija to sign en­ergy agree­ments with Bo­li­vian Pres­i­dent Evo Mo­rales, a close ally of Mr. Chavez.

Ar­gen­tine au­thor­i­ties im­pounded the $800,000 and treated the ac­tion as a cus­toms vi­o­la­tion, keep­ing half the money as a fine. Mr. An­tonini was re­leased and al­lowed to leave the coun­try, prompt­ing charges of an of­fi­cial cover-up.

“What was that brief­case do­ing on that plane and to whom was it des­tined?” asked Ar­gen­tine colum­nist Joaquin Mo­rales Sola. “The jus­tice sys­tem can hardly ask An­tonini Wil­son those ques­tions be­cause he ben­e­fited from the of­fi­cial pol­icy of not dis­com­fort­ing Chavez.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.