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Another stashed money scandal rocks Kirchner's administration

Friday, August 10th 2007 - 21:00 UTC
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An Argentine official resigned on Thursday after a Venezuelan businessman was found carrying about 800,000 US dollars in undeclared cash on a government-chartered flight, the latest scandal to rock President Nestor Kirchner's administration.

From Patatonia in a political rally President Kirchner defiantly reacted to the scandal saying that "there's no cover up operation, the people must know what is going on. This is the first time (in Argentine history) that corruption is attacked head on". Claudio Uberti, who ran a regulatory body for Argentine toll roads, was asked to resign after he let the businessman join an official Argentine delegation on the flight chartered by state energy company Energia Argentina, Planning Minister De Vido said. Uberti, one of De Vido most trusted aides, and close to President Kirchner and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, agreed to step down. According to Argentine press reports Uberti met with President Kirchner twice before the announcement. Argentina's energy corporation ENARSA president Exequiel Espinoza was also on board the private jet together with other trusted staff. They were all traveling on official Argentine passports. "We're implementing all the controls in all areas, fall who must, my administration is permanently after the truth", underlined Kirchner standing next to his wife and presidential candidate Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in the province of Chubut. Argentine authorities say Venezuelan businessman Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson was stopped early morning on Saturday by customs authorities at a Buenos Aires airport after they found 790,555 US dollars in one of his suitcases. Officials so far have given no explanation of why Antonini Wilson might have had the cash or what sort of business he is in. ENARSA in an official release published in Buenos Aires dailies admitted the jet was under the corporation's contract and with three of the company's staff on board. The discovery also created political waves in Venezuela, where the head of the tax and customs agency, Seniat, said it had opened an investigation. Jose Vielma Mora said Venezuelan law prohibits carrying more than 10,000 US dollars in cash and such a sum should have been declared upon leaving. He said the Venezuelans aboard the chartered flight were not part of President Hugo's Chavez entourage during a recent visit to Argentina. However many sides of the incident remain unaccounted for. Argentine Customs working on a tip off checked the plane at 2:30 in the morning; the group in the private jet insisted they had immunity because they belonged to President Chavez delegation; the Argentine government reported the incident three days later when the news was leaked to the press; the Venezuelan businessman Antonini Wilson apparently a close friend of President Chavez travels quite often to Argentina (14 trips have so far been recorded) and spends half his time between Caracas and Miami where he has a one million US dollars mansion; the Argentine official who resigned also travels often to Venezuela, the other members of the Argentine delegation including ENARSA president were not asked to resign. A federal prosecutor opened an investigation on the case and later the Financial Inquiries Unit from the Ministry of Finance that deals with money laundering also intervened in the case. Earlier in the day Ministry of Interior Anibal Fernandez and Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernandez tried to defend the Kirchner administration saying that controls "effectively worked". "We're pleased with how the system worked; there was a time when Argentina received "suitcases full of money" and nothing happened. That is over", said Alberto Fernandez.

Categories: Politics, Argentina.

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