Monday, September 29th 2008 - 21:00 UTC

Clue witness ready to testify in suitcase money scandal

María del Luján Telpuk, the former Buenos Aires airport security police officer who last year (August 2007) caught US-Venezuelan businessman Guido Antonini Wilson attempting to smuggle into Argentina a suitcase with 800,000 dollars, said that she was “afraid” and ratified that she was willing to have a face-to-face confrontation with Antonini.

The pussycat that trapped the 'big mouse'

The money allegedly was to help finance the electoral campaign of then presidential candidate Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and originated in Venezuela's government owned oil corporation PDVSA, a contribution from President Hugo Chavez. Antonini fearing the consequences of the disclosure of the incident and distrusting Argentine and Venezuelan officials returned to his home in Miami where a couple of weeks later he turned in with the whole story to the FBI. Ms Telpuk arrived Sunday in Miami to testify in the trial against Venezuelan lawyer Franklin Durán, accused of acting as an illegal foreign government agent in the US. "This is not easy for me, I'm in the land of Antonini and it is new for me," Telpuk said. The former Buenos Aires airport officer had to open her luggage when she arrived at Miami International Airport. US airport officers seized her makeup set, banned for security reasons. "I'm a little afraid" Telpuk admitted. She refused to give details of her forthcoming statement in court. Furthermore, she claimed not to know the exact date of her testimony. "I have come to Miami to tell my side of the truth," Telpuk said. "I'm not afraid of Antonini in particular, I'm afraid of everything because it's all brand new for me." Asked if she was ready for a have a face-to-face confrontation with Antonini, she replied, "I didn't come (to Miami) for that, but yes, I would do it." Antonini, also a witness, testified on Thursday in the US trial. His statements contradicted Telpuk's account of events. Antonini accused Telpuk and former Argentine official and close advisor of former president Nestor Kirchner Claudio Uberti of being involved in the seizure operation. Antonini alleged that Uberti had cleared Customs with a suitcase containing a far larger sum than Antonini Wilson's 800,000 dollars. Two days after his arrival in Ezeiza International Airport, Antonini Wilson said, Uberti offered him "whatever you want from Argentina" as a reward for the "service" he had performed for the country. The prosecution claims the money was sent by the government of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez to fund Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's presidential campaign but both governments have vehemently denied the claims. Antonini said Buenos Aires airport officials accepted bribes and that Customs insinuated he would be allowed to keep half the suitcase's contents if he admitted it was his. In the separate Buenos Aires investigation, led by Argentine Judge Daniel Petrone, Telpuk said last Thursday she could not ascertain whether another suitcase had cleared Customs, as Antonini claimed. Asked who the suitcase belonged to, Antonini said it was his own, according to Telpuk. But other than ownership, Antonini claims to have no idea of the suitcase's content, and that he learnt when Argentine Customs officials ordered it open. According to Telpuk, before she opened the suitcase, Antonini said it contained "books," then "some bits of paper," and finally, "60,000 dollars". Telpuk achieved notoriety following the discovery of the money stash on August 4, 2007. She has posed naked for Playboy magazine and has since appeared on TV gossip shows.

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