Mérida, Venezuela, August 13, 2007 — A possible corruption scandal erupted last week in Venezuela and in Argentina when a Venezuelan businessman brought $800,000 in cash to Argentina a few days before President Chavez’s arrival to that country.
Two days before Chavez arrived in Buenos Aires last week, a Venezuelan businessman traveling with officials from the state-owned oil company]ies of Venezuela and of Argentina was caught with US$ 800,000 upon entering Argentina. The incident has been said to be proof of government corruption, but the Venezuelan government has denied responsibility in the case, saying that the money was a private matter.
According to Argentinean press, Guido Antonini Wilson is the name of the Venezuelan-American businessman who who had the suitcase of cash on him. Although not a Venezuelan state employee, Wilson apparently made the trip from Caracas to Buenos Aires together with several employees of the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA and upper officials of the Argentinean Enarsa in a private jet rented by Enarsa.
Argentinean officials confiscated the money at the airport due to the fact that the Venezuelan-American did not officially claim the money upon entering. Officials initially declared the case a simple "infraction" and let Wilson walk free, but both Argentinean and Venezuelan officials are now demanding that the case be investigated for money laundering.
"From my point of view this is a possible case of contraband, but I suppose that the investigative unit will be investigating that," said Argentinean Attorney General Maria Luz Rivas Diez.
Press reports revealed the case on Tuesday of last week as the Venezuelan president was arriving to Buenos Aires to sign several agreements with his Argentinean counterpart Nestor Kirchner. Upon being questioned both Hugo Chavez and Nestor Kirchner denied having any connection to the case and declined to make any declarations until after further investigation.
"We don’t have anything to do with it," said Kirchner when asked about the case later in the week during a trip to Bolivia.
Shortly afterwards the Venezuelan state oil company announced that it "had opened an investigation to determine" the reason why the private businessman Wilson was traveling on the flight with PDVSA employees. But Venezuelan Minister of the Interior Pedro Carreño assured that the government would not assume the responsibility of in case, explaining that the responsibility lies with the individual responsible for committing the crime.
"The legal responsibility lies with the individual," said Carreño at a press conference on Monday. Carreño called for patience in investigating the case and added that they "must establish if the suitcase was taken out of Venezuela, since otherwise there would not be any crime committed."
Carreño however also denounced the use of the incident as a media campaign against the government and specifically against the "accomplishments" of the Venezuelan president’s South American tour.
"If the suitcase was confiscated on Saturday, why did they wait until Tuesday, when Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez arrived, to release the case," asked Carreño, insisting that the intention was "to not recognize the advances in social and energy cooperation among the countries of the southern hemisphere."
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro also questioned the media coverage of the incident, criticizing the media for having claimed that Wilson was a Venezuelan government official.
"Why are they making such a scandal out of this?" asked Maduro. "Truly, because from powerful sectors they are very nervous, above all in Washington, because we are taking huge steps in the advancement of South American union, Caribbean union, and they are scared, they tremble, and well, they make scandals in order to damage our reputation."
"This is an incident. Let the regular investigative organs work as they do in every country," said Maduro.
According to initial reports, Wilson is a 46-year old Venezuelan-American who resides in Miami where he owns a million-dollar home. Some sources link him to the private company Venoco, an oil company with contracts from PDVSA, but no definitive proof has been released to date. Venezuelan tax official Vielma Mora, however, assures that he has "large investments with PDVSA."