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News: International | Law and Justice

Argentina Seeks Extradition in Case of Briefcase Scandal

Mérida, August 30, 2007 ( — Antonini Wilson, the Venezuelan-American businessman who attempted to enter Argentina with $800,000 in cash earlier this month, was located in his house in Miami this week and awaits an extradition request from Argentina. Argentinean authorities are investigating the infamous case of the briefcase with $800,000 with which Wilson attempted to enter the country and Venezuelan authorities have assured their cooperation with the investigation.

The incident created a political scandal earlier this month when the Venezuelan-American businessman was caught by Argentinean authorities upon entering the country. The discovery of $800,000 hidden in a suitcase erupted in accusations of corruption on the part of the Venezuelan and Argentinean governments. Both governments denied involvement, although Wilson arrived in Argentina on a private flight with officials from the Venezuelan state oil company, PDVSA.

In Venezuela the case was used by the opposition to the Chavez government as alleged proof of the opposition's claims of corruption in the government. In Argentina the case provoked the dismissal of one high government official who was present on the flight with Wilson. Another high official in the Venezuelan state company PDVSA also resigned as a result of the scandal.

Argentinean authorities are investigating the case and are in the process of requesting the extradition of Wilson in order to question him regarding the case. Argentinean Attorney General Maria Luz Rivas Diez has stated that she wants to question Wilson about what he intended to do with the money in the briefcase but will have to wait for the legal process to unfold.

Venezuelan Energy Minister and President of PDVSA, Rafael Ramirez, stated this week that the Venezuelan national oil company would cooperate and aid in the investigation of the case.

"The Attorney General is working and we are ready to cooperate with whatever they request from us," he said. Ramirez also assured that PDVSA is subject to strict government oversight.

"In PDVSA there isn't any way that we could evade government controls. Inside such a complex company that makes transactions of all kinds, every day, we have cases that we are investigating. I should reiterate that PDVSA is subject to all the public administration controls," he said.

Ramirez also assured that the presence of Wilson on the PDVSA charter flight was a violation of the company norms given that he is not a PDVSA company official. The Venezuelan government has blamed PDVSA Vice-President Diego Uzcategui for allowing Wilson aboard the flight.

Apparently, Wilson is a friend of Uzcategui's son, Daniel, who requested permission for him to board the flight. Uzcategui was dismissed from his post shortly after the incident.

Wilson, who lives in a million-dollar home in Miami, has apparently made many short one or two-day trips to Argentina in the last year, many times using a US passport. Various sources have connected the businessman to Venoco, an oil company that works with PDVSA, and Venoco owner Carlos Kaufmann has affirmed this, stating that Wilson helped the company "to acquire machinery in the United States."

According to press reports, Wilson contacted the Argentinean daily La Nación shortly after the incident and expressed his desire to explain his version of what happened. US authorities will await an extradition request from Argentina before taking any action.

Published on Aug 30th 2007 at 7.19pm