Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Venezuelan found guilty in cash-filled suitcase case

A wealthy Venezuelan businessman was found guilty in federal court in Miami on Monday of acting as an illegal foreign agent sent to the United States to cover up his government's role in a political scandal involving a cash-stuffed suitcase smuggled into Argentina.

During the eight-week trial prosecutors argued that Key Biscayne resident Franklin Duran, 41, was working for Venezuela's intelligence service when he sought to cover up the secret donation of oil money from the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chavez to the campaign of Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez.

The U.S government was initially accused of politicizing the case in an effort to embarrass Chavez, a vocal leftist critic of the Bush administration.

Opponents of Chavez say the case provides valuable insight into his government's illegal use of income from the country's state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA, to help political allies.

The charges relate to an incident in August 2007 when Duran's friend and business partner, Guido Antonini, 46, also of Key Biscayne, was stopped by a customs agent in Argentina after arriving on a private jet chartered by PDVSA. He was briefly detained after almost $800,000 in cash was found in his luggage.

Duran and four other defendants were later accused of arranging a series of meetings in the Miami area to get Antonini to lie about the origin of the cash. Unbeknownst to the defendants, Antonini wore an FBI recording device at meetings.

Venezuelan and Argentina officials have angrily denied the money was a political contribution, though they have failed to explain why the cash was on the plane. While the trial did not provide proof that the money was intended for Argentina's president, prosecutors put on a strong case linking Duran to several top Chavez officials.

Prosecutors were aided by three of the defendants who pleaded guilty and testified against Duran. One of them, Duran's business partner, Carlos Kauffmann, told jurors that the Venezuelan intelligence service sought their help to silence Antonini in return for government favors. Kauffmann admitted that he and Duran had over the years made tens of millions of dollars on public contracts after paying kickbacks to government officials.

"There is no mystery as to what happened in this case," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Shipley said in his closing arguments. Duran "came here on a mission, a mission to hide the source of the money," he said.

Duran attorney Ed Shohat argued in court that Duran was simply trying to help his friend while protecting his own legitimate oil business. He denounced the case as "a political circus," and vowed to appeal the verdict.

Duran faces a maximum of 15 years in prison at his sentencing Jan. 12.

Venezuelan found guilty in cash-filled suitcase case 11/03/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 3, 2008 10:47pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. PolitiFact Florida: Claim that 5.7 million noncitizens voted is wrong

    State Roundup

    President Donald Trump's unfounded allegations that millions voted illegally in 2016 is back in the news, with his supporters pointing to a new analysis that claims millions of undocumented immigrants voted in 2008.

    Instances of noncitizens voting have been reported, but evidence points to a small number among millions of votes cast.  
  2. For Fourth of July, an American feast inspired by founding father Alexander Hamilton

    Cooking

    Are there a million things you haven't done? Is one of them throwing a patriotic party inspired by one of the founding fathers?

    Caribbean Pork With Potato Salad makes for the perfect Fourth of July meal.
  3. 'Baby Driver' literally turns heist movie genre on its ear, set to slick soundtrack

    Movies

    Buckle up for Baby Driver, a movie so full throttle cool that you want to fist bump the screen. Style is the substance of Edgar Wright's inventive heist flick, a fresh, masterful synching of music and getaway mayhem, as if La La Land's traffic jam was moving, armed and dangerous.

    Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver for heist arranger Doc (Kevin Spacey). Plagued by tinnitus, Baby tunes out his distracting “hum in the drum” by listening to music while he drives.
Sony Pictures
  4. Former mayor Rick Baker, left, is challenging incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, right, to become St. Petersburg mayor
  5. Life after HB7069 to be discussed at Pinellas school district workshop

    Blogs

    The Pinellas County school district is still trying to navigate life after the controversial passage of HB7069.