In a nutshell, here’s what the trial is about:
The eight-week trial centers on whether the Venezuelan government dispatched five men to Miami to coerce and cajole a Venezuelan American man into keeping quiet about $800,000 in Venezuelan state funds that Chávez’s associates allegedly tried to channel to political allies in Argentina.
In August 2007, customs agents in Argentina detained the man, Guido Alejandro Antonini, after he arrived at the Buenos Aires airport with the cash. Antonini, who had been close to the Chávez government, was soon released and went home to Miami. But as rumors swirled that the money had been designated for the presidential campaign of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the Venezuelan government sent operatives to Miami to urge Antonini never to reveal the truth, U.S. prosecutors said.
The Venezuelan operatives met with Antonini in cafes and restaurants to urge him to stay quiet, expressing concern that Fernández de Kirchner would lose the presidency if it became known that the money had been destined for her campaign.
“The truth can cost her the election,” one of the operatives, Moisés Maiónica, told Antonini. Fernández de Kirchner, a close ally of Chávez’s, won the presidency in October 2007.
Maiónica and other Venezuelans did not know, however, that Antonini was cooperating with the FBI and had secretly taped their meetings and phone conversations.
Maiónica, along with another Venezuelan, Carlos Kauffmann, and an Uruguayan national, has pleaded guilty to the unusual charge of operating in the United States as unregistered agents of the Venezuelan state. U.S. prosecutors are searching for Antonio José Canchica, a high-level operative in Venezuela’s intelligence service who was indicted in the case.
The defendant in the trial, Franklin Durán, 41, a business associate of Antonini’s, was among those allegedly sent to launch the coverup. If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison.
“The Venezuelan government had a problem, directed Franklin Durán to assist, and he did so,” Assistant U.S. Attorney John Shipley told jurors during closing arguments Thursday.
And that’s not all; there’s much more;
Transcripts of the taped conversations reveal intricate details of the collaboration between Venezuelan businessmen and government officials during Venezuela’s recent oil boom as they pilfered public funds through no-bid contracts, kickbacks and secret commissions.
Money laundering, you ask? We got your laundry right here:
In one case, Kauffmann said he and Durán bought a $4 million building in Caracas and sold it to the Finance Ministry 15 days later for $9.5 million. About $5 million of that went to top officials in the Finance Ministry, Kauffmann said, including then-Minister Tobias Nóbrega. Venezuelan officials charged Nóbrega this year in connection with that case and others.
Kauffmann described another scheme in which a $100 million bond sale netted $25 million for Finance Ministry officials and how he and his associates managed bribes by companies to the National Guard.
Maiónica testified that as the scandal spiraled out of control, Chávez assigned the Venezuelan intelligence chief, Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, to launch an operation to silence Antonini.
And it’s not just Venezuela and Argentina, but Bolivia, too:
Those who participated in the alleged coverup expected to be paid handsomely for their work. Maiónica said he would earn $400,000. Kauffmann said the Venezuelan ambassador in Bolivia offered to pay him from a $100 million fund set up to aid President Evo Morales’s government.
Among the blogs, The Devil’s Excrement has the best analysis of the case, which he calls Maletagate: Start with The Miami Venezuelan Maletagate trial part XV: Kauffman gives details of corruption rackets, nothing will be investigated in Venezuela and scroll down.
Just another day in the Bolivarian revolution…