The Venezuela Bust

It’s bad enough that the United States, a country that has provided election funds for its favored candidates in other countries for over fifty years (including, notably, Argentina and Venezuela), is now criminalizing the purported $800,000 donation from Hugo Chávez to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina. It’s bad enough that it stinks of yet another silly anti-Chávez campaign.

But the criminal complaint just doesn’t make any sense.

Here’s the Miami Herald’s description of the purported crime.

Their mission from the Chávez government, prosecutors say: to hush up a local Venezuelan man who was caught in August with a suitcase full of campaign cash as he arrived at a Buenos Aires airport with a high-ranking Argentine official. They pressured him not to reveal the source of the cash or its recipient.

And here are excerpts from some of the conversations between the accused and Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, the guy caught carrying the $800,000 in Argentina.

At that meeting, FRANKLIN DURAN revealed to Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson the identity of the candidate in the Argentine Republic presidential campaign who was intended to receive the approximately $800,000 which had been confiscated at Aeroparque Jorge Newberry in Buenos Aires, Argentina. FRANKLIN DURAN further advised Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson that he (Duran) had spoken with a very high ranking official of DISIP, and a very high ranking official of the Justice Ministry of Venezuela, concerning the aborted donation.


FRANKLIN DURAN identified the individual who had taken the seized cash on board the aircraft as the assistant to the Chief Executive of PDVSA.


MOISES MAIONICA spoke on the telephone with Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson and advised Antonini that his (MAIONICA’s) involvement in this matter began with a three way telephone call between the Office of the Vice President of Venezuela, DISIP and himself (MAIONICA) in which MAIONICA was given the mission.


MOISES MAIONICA informed Guido Alejandro Anonini Wilson that a very high ranking official of DISIP, using the name "Arvelo," would be calling Atonini.

You see the problem? The whole reason these guys were purportedly threatening Antonini is that they didn’t want him to tell anyone where the money came from and who was the intended recipient. So the very first thing they told him was … wait for it … where the money came from and who was the intended recipient. Which suggests that the accused believed that Antonini didn’t know where the money came from and who was the intended recipient, yet in a conversation designed to make sure he didn’t tell anyone where the money came from and who was the intended recipient, they proceeded to tell him where the money purportedly came from and who was the intended recipient.

All the while making sure they named increasingly senior members of Chávez’s government.

Now perhaps these guys are the most colossally bad spooks in creation (after the US spooks who left cell phone records of their extraordinary rendition of Abu Omar, perhaps), or this is an elaborate set-up that should be transparent to the FBI.

  1. bmaz says:

    That document may be entitled “Criminal Complaint”, but it is in the form of an application for arrest warrant it looks like to me. That is also consistent with the articles it appears. If they are really going to prosecute these schleps, there is going to have to be some other charging document that either has been, or quickly will be, produced. What a bizarre pile of crud this is.

  2. freepatriot says:

    if all of this happened in Argentina,why the fuck is this in the UNITED STATES FEDERAL DISTRICT COURT ???

    does the United States enforce election laws in Argentina ???

    kinda funny that george bush wants to enforce elections laws in other countries when he can’t abide by the laws here

    the repuglitards just got a lot more splainin to do

    • emptywheel says:

      They’re accused of acting as agents of a foreign power in the US without alerting the AG–polite talk for accusing them of being spooks, I guess.

      Of course, once it’s clear they’re agents of a non-foreign power, I guess they get to walk.

  3. emptywheel says:

    Yup to both Neil and bmaz

    We were down for about 5 minutes–I blame Christy’s return. She doesn’t know how to drive the new design. (Just joking.)

    And yes, it is an application for an arrest warrant. They thought these guys were a flight risk.

    What I can’t figure out is whether the US knows these guys are setting up Chavez for something the conservatives in Venezuela did, or are they CIA sponsored spooks who will quietly be escorted back home?

    • LS says:

      “or are they CIA sponsored spooks who will quietly be escorted back home?”

      Hee, hee…sounds like a case of a botched…”nevermind”…..”we’ll take care of it…just send them back here in one piece”…

  4. bmaz says:

    Never seen the foreign agents statute, but this sure looks lame to me. Of course Acosta is a Gonzales acolyte, that is why they specialize in stupid prosecutions down there.

  5. looseheadprop says:

    If you arrest someone caught inthe act of, say, bankrobbery. You arrest the guy on the spot. To take him to jail, then court, where he is arraigned on the basis of a criminal complaint. The complaint can be sworn out ay any witness with personal knowledge of he facts.

    So, if your house gets burglarized, you could be the witness swearing out hte compliant.

    WIthin a set time period prescribed under the Speedy Trial Act, you either have to go to the Grand Jury to get thm to vote an Indictment (after presenting testimony and evidence to them to support the indictment) or

    If the defense agrees to waive Indictment, you procede to trial onthe basis of a document called a Criminal Information, which reads jsut like an Indictmetn only there is no mention of the GJ, b/c no presentation was made to the GJ.

    There is nothing hinky about this criminal complaint as amtter of form.

    Content–what act did these guys do on US soil?

    • bmaz says:

      Oh, I understand all that; I’m only partially stupid. Still looks like an arrest warrant application to me, notwithstanding it’s caption and that it may mete out the minimum fundamentals for a complaint. Still bet you dollars to donuts there will be a proper better charging document if this doesn’t evaporate into the ether.

    • prostratedragon says:

      When I heard some of Sra. Fernandez de Kirchner’s remarks on the radio this PM I had the distinct impression she thinks she’s being given the Woman in Power shivaree by el caudicito up here.

      I have also the distinct impression that she’s right.

  6. WilliamOckham says:

    The complaint says that the “conspirators” were worried that revealing who the funds were intended for would cause that candidate to lose the election. But they didn’t talk about creating a false paper trail until Dec. 11, after the election was over (October 30th).

  7. scribe says:

    EW, FWIW about the Keystone Kops aspect of telling the recipient that the source of the funds, which the recipient is not to know, is so-and-so, etc., one needs to note that the FBI agent handling this and making the affidavit has just scads and scads of experience. From his affidavit, he came on the job on 09/07/04. In other words, three years and three months.

    Give the kid a break and don’t make fun of him, ok?

    • emptywheel says:

      Oh, alright scribe.

      But just to be exact, he would have had about three years and no months experience when he wired up Antonini to capture all the names of top Venezuelan officials the accused were telling Antonini not to leak.

        • bmaz says:

          Is everybody happy with the new Gonzales we purchased for the DOJ? A bargain at any price! From the WaPo article scribe cited:

          Several Democrats have raised questions about the propriety of having the inquiry run by the Justice Department, whose lawyers were involved in offering legal advice about the tapes, and the CIA inspector general, whose office reviewed the tapes before they were destroyed.

          On the surface, this sure seems like a pair of awfully compelling points; but nothing to see here, Mukus will take care of it all and let us know why it was all ok later on. Please move along….

        • Margot says:

          Lordy, “subject to political pressure,” we can’t have that!

          Get out the thumbscrews. That’s approved. *

          *Different methods may be used in different foreign prisons locales.

  8. freepatriot says:

    I understand the criminal trial procedure (mostly thru “trial and error”)

    what I don’t understand is WHERE IS THE CRIME HERE ???

    people who make political donations in foreign countries can not travel to the United States ???

    gonna be a lotof repuglitards who can’t travel in the United States

    is this all about making illegal campaign contributions in foreign countries

    once again, why haven’t we rounded up a few hundred thousand repuglitards who are guilty of the same thing

    if this is really just a political stunt designed to drive a wedge between Argentina and Venezuala, georgie can take credit for another disaster accomplished

    I’m thinking george bush found a way to shoot off a few more repuglitard toes here, and he just couldn’t resist

    otherwise, I can’t see how this pointless prosecution that highlights repuglitard hypocrisy could help the repuglitards or hurt Hugo

  9. emptywheel says:

    No, the implication, freep, is that these Venezuelans decided to come to the United States repeatedly to threaten Antonini, rather than contacting him in Venezuela to 1) tell him all the names they didn’t want him to reveal, and 2) ask him politely not to reveal those names they had just told him.

    Had they carried out this purported threat in Venezuela, it wouldn’t have been a purported crime.

    See how that all works out?

  10. Mary says:

    You know, coming from a DOJ that let 9 billion go missing in Iraq without a second look, and a Bush administration that gives 200 million or so in cash annually to help keep Musharref propped up against all comers, that really is almost funny.

    It did make me think of this recent UK press piece about the NatWest extraditions:…..nat112.xml

    Viet Dinh, an adoring and formerly loyal DOJEee Bushie, proponent of all things dictatorial in the Executive Branch, may be feeling a smidge bit dirtied by the torture blood he and his pals can’t seem to wash off their doorsteps, or possibly a little sleepless from the dreams of millions of refugees and stacks of thousands of dead Iraqi children. In any event, he’s gravely concerned that the UK should not have extradited the Nat-s to the US.

    Viet Dinh, the former deputy US attorney general, has spoken out about the increasing appetite of US courts for attacking multinational businesses, warning that the current legal system is encouraging “foreign shopping” by prosecutors.

    He said: “There have been a lot of complaints around the world – rightly or wrongly – about unilateral US military or foreign policy action.

    “It seems to me that there has been less concern, where there should be more, in the case of unilateral prosecutorial or economic actions – of which I think that a liberalised extradition regime for non-terrorist crimes would fall into.

    Notice how he managed a carve out for “non-terrorist” crimes? He still thinks he kidnap/torture of stray Canadians and Germans on the whim of a petulant George Bush, with DOJ lackeys lining up to sign off on orders for torture or court filings for cover ups – – -all that is still a-ok. But V.D. is just a bit concerned that legitimate businessmen are going to be hunted down by the US and extradited and have US law imposed upon them. In a court. With habeas. And prior hearings in the UK on the extradition.

    I actually agree with him on the NatWest crew. On the worldview he and his pals helped create, where the US imposes not just its business competition laws, but also imposes its ginned up wars of aggession to seize foreign assets and international state sponsor of torture status on the whole of the world – notsomuch.

  11. WilliamOckham says:

    Wait a minute. I’m reading this FBI affidavit. On page 6, Duran tells the alleged bagman who took the cash on board the aircraft. So, the story is that the bad guys actually put the cash in the guy’s bag without him knowing it.

  12. freepatriot says:

    so let’s see if I got this straight

    the criminal complaint alleges that:

    operatives of Hugo Chavez came to America to threaten a man who had previously been caught with a large amount of cash at an airport in Argentina

    the threats were intended to prevent the man from revealing some names of people that the man had not previously known. Since the man did not known the names that he was not supposed to reveal, during the course of the incident, the operatives told the man the names that the man was not supposed to reveal

    do I have that right ???

    cuz it doesn’t make any fucking sense

    and if it doesn’t make any sense, it’s a CIA operation

    ever seen the movie “Ruby” staring Danny Aiello ???

    I know what the CIA does. A bunch of stupid stuff, stuff NOBODY would believe.That way,if a guy like me gets caught,he tells the cops a story that nobody would ever believe

  13. BayStateLibrul says:

    Way OT,

    If I’m reading this correctly, Major League Baseball might have
    an Inspector General… maybe they can also look into instant replays

  14. Mary says:


    Mukasey, specifically, has a big ol honking conflict.

    He issued the original arrest warrant for Padilla. The one that was based on the Zubaydah and Binyam Mohammed torture statements. The one that has been objected to from the beginning by Padilla’s lawyers. The one that is the main reason – even beyond the Brinkema and Kennedy orders – that nothing relating to the Zubaydah torture should have been destroyed. It has been specifically and by name at issue in a US crimnal proceedings, where that very same torture was use to secure arrests and the arrests were secured under Mukasey’s signature.

    Is there nothing that is considered a damn conflict anymore?????????!!

  15. Mary says:

    freepatriot 30 – sadly, that’s what the CIA was relying upon in the el-Masri case. That the story would sound so outlandish and make the CIA seem so stupid that it couldn’t be true.

    Turns out it is true, it’s just that not one of the three branches of US gov gave a damn.

  16. emptywheel says:

    WO and freep

    NOW you guys are catching on. The story the FBI wants us to believe is that:

    August 4: a Cessna gets stopped and they find $800,000 in Antonini’s luggage, but (the FBI wants us to know) Antonini doesn’t know what it’s there.
    August 23: the accused go visit Antonini, and tell him who put the money in his luggage. And then told him that they’d hurt his family if he tells anyone the information they just told him.
    August 27: They continue to give Antonini names of people and say if he reveals the names, they will hurt his family

    Over two months, they continue to give him even more information, all the while insisting on his power of attorney so they can defend him in a matter that, apparently, wouldn’t have been a crime elsewhere.

    And as I said, all this conveniently happens in the US, so the US can make it a crime.

  17. BayStateLibrul says:

    From Dean’s article on the Destruction of Tapes.
    Hope from Judge Hellerstein?
    Could Bushco’s posse be fast at work researching how to refute any orders from Hellerstein?

    “As I have written before, judges appointed by Republican presidents tend to throw cases that might embarrass Republican presidents out of their court, as quickly as they can figure out how to do so. Federal judges appointed by Democratic presidents, fortunately, do not tend to cower when either Republican or Democratic presidents are involved. A judge ends up with a case like this through a random selection procedure; in this case, the CIA happened to draw a Judge it cannot intimidate, which makes it interesting.

    More on Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein, Who Issued the Videotapes Order

    Judge Hellerstein was appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton in 1998. An editor of the Columbia Law Review during his law school years, he started his legal career in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps of the Army in 1959-1960. An experienced litigator with a prestigious New York City law firm, he is a highly-respected judge. He works hard, is fair, and is savvy.

    He is also a nightmare for the CIA in a case like this, because on June 3, 2005 he ordered the release of four videos from Abu Ghraib, along with dozens of photographs – not withstanding an effort of the government to suppress this material from ever becoming public.

    Judge Hellerstein appears to have no tolerance for torture. Unlike his former colleague and now-Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who still is not clear that waterboarding is torture, one does not have the sense that Judge Hellerstein suffers from such confusion. While Judge Hellerstein is going to appropriately protect the sources and methods of the CIA, if any judge is going to get to the bottom of this destruction of these records quickly, this is the judge.”

  18. freepatriot says:

    maybe MLB could Hire Kenesaw Mountain Landis

    oh, wait, he’s dead

    seriously,does anybody see the steroids scandal reaching the level of the “Black Sox” scandal ???

    if so, can baseball just apply another bandaid position to the hierarchy in response

    does it all really matter

    I hated Barry Bonds before these allegations arose, and I’ve always liked Mark McGuire. This scandal hasn’t really changed my opinion of McGuire (and McGuire really looked like a putz when he appeared at the hearings), and I still hate Barry (I just got a good reason now, I guess). But that’s a “personal” emotion that is seperate from baseball as a whole

    the steroids scandal doesn’t seem to have much affect on my past affections. I don’t care if the records are wiped from the books or allowed to stand. The stain is there whether the record book acknowledges it or not. Hank Aaron is the all time home run leader,and Roger Maris is the single season home run leader in my book. As I see it,the steroids scandal stained the players, but not the game itself

    and don’t even get me started on Pete

    • BayStateLibrul says:

      My vote for induction to the Hall this year is strength coach Brian McNamee. Picture McNamee injecting Clemen’s arse with steroid and growth-hormone…
      Roger is not one of my favorites.

      • freepatriot says:

        As a life long Oakland A’s fan, I kinda hate clemens too, but not like I hate Barely (1 for 47 in the post season as a Pirate)

        mostly I just think of clemens as the WHINER who was thrown out of a playoff game for bitching into his glove (arguing balls and strikes results in an automatic ejection)

        clemens sux, that’s all ya need to know

        now, back to the topic at hand:

        can we start punching holes in this crime nee “Stooges” episode ???

        first off,why would Hugo choose a bag man who would then conveniently travel to the United States ???

        come on people, Hugo ain’t stupid. He’s gonna pick better bag men than that

        then we can deal with the story about the names. you don’t threaten somebody about revealing names if the person doesn’t know the names. This is common sense

        so they had to tell the guy the names he wasn’t supposed to know

        why would you do that with a guy who had already proven himself to be an incompetent bag man ???

        none of this stuff has ANYTHING to do with trying to keep this stuff secret

        it actually looks as if everything done in this case was designed tomake this episode public

        there’s a word for this type of shit

        COMINTELPRO sound familiar to anybody out there ???

        now,if you’ll excuse me for a minute, I feel a sudden need to make myself a tin foil beanie …

        I picked the wrong week to run out of tin foil,or maybe it was just the wrong week to stop sniffing glue

      • bmaz says:

        Sure is funny that the Red Sawx skate effectively unscathed, but the “Report” is absolutely littered with Yankees and former Yankees that were around when they were pounding the Sawx in the late 90s and early 2000s. Oh, wait, George Mitchell is an owner, and on the board, of the Red Sawx. I’m sure that is just a coincidence. That guy MacNamee better have something more than a couple of piddly cancelled checks from Clemens. I am no Yanks fan in the least, but I thought the “Report” was pretty thin on the evidence. The discussion and suggestions sections were decent; but I have real problems with the way they went about gratuitously naming people with thin to no credible evidence. If Clemens decides to fight (not that he has that kind of personality or anything), and he hires good trial type counsel, MacNamee better pucker up if he doesn’t have better stuff than we have seen so far. I am no fan, but I would represent Clemens in a heartbeat on this. Of course, I would charge a LOT of money for the pleasure…

        • BayStateLibrul says:

          Ah, that good liberal from Maine, is above reproach, like Muskie?
          The Mitchell Report is amazing in that he had NO subpoena power…
          In my opinion, Roger is a lying sack of shit, and his lawyer, the Hendricks
          brothers, well… they seem kind of Rove-like…
          Take my words with a grain of salt, I am prejudiced against the Evil
          Empire and Texas…
          I can’t help myself…

  19. WilliamOckham says:

    If anybody reads Spanish, Mr. Antonini did a phone interview with an Argentine newspaper. Based on my very limited Spanish skills and Google’s translation, I believe he said that he agreed to cooperate with U.S. authorities to avoid charges in Argentina. That would imply that the U.S. feds colluded with some folks in Argentina to lure these guys into a committing a crime here.

    • emptywheel says:

      It’s unclear because later it just says he’s trying to protect his family. It sounds like Antonini is close enough with these guys that he might have elicited more information from them, and it sounds like the first meeting mentioned in the complaint was taped. So I still don’t get why Antonini cooperated.

      It also says they’re trying to flip these four to go higher.

  20. Minnesotachuck says:

    Freep @ 41: If Ted Williams hadn’t lost 5 prime years to WWII and Korea he would have been well into the 700s, and if the rumored trade with the Yankees for Joe DiMaggio had come off he might have reached 800 plus.

  21. JohnLopresti says:

    The ecotourism press reflects on a wider scandal: < <Estados Unidos congeló ya 7 millones de dólares que tenían depositados en este país, en una cuenta del American Express Bank, entidad que a su vez tiempo atrás -y con la misma Fiscalía- acordó pagar multas por 55 millones de dólares a cambio de evitar una eventual condena por lavado de dinero.>> i.e., frozen bank account, moneyLaundromat from wo link above. I think part of the concern might be initiatives like the failed plebiscite on letting HuCh appoint governor surrogates, though this NYT article only covers part of the local scene’s drama enacted last week when voters spoke against the leadership’s plan. Reminded me of a Putin partisan result in recalcitrant provincial elections two of which recorded a popular vote above 99% and approaching 102% in one instance in support of the dominant party’s slate of candidates recently.

  22. bmaz says:

    Actually, I am kind of with you on those thoughts. This will bring a smile to your face; I was there in 2001, at game 7 of the last World Series the Evil Empire was in, when the Diamondbacks beat them on the bloopiest freaking single you have ever seen. I look at it merely from a legal perspective, and in that regard, I thought the report was remarkably thin and lame on substantive evidence. MacNamee may be enough, but not without appending better support and corroboration for his statements.

    • BayStateLibrul says:

      I do love Joe Torre, and Jeter is a complete ball player and
      terrific role model for the kids… but Bucky Bleeping Dent, ah, he is
      different animal…
      I haven’t been the same since I took my grandkiddo, Christian to the
      2004 parade… This year’s parade was fine and warmer, but not the same…

  23. JohnLopresti says:

    Saw an interesting comparison yesterday of economies in Argentina, Spain, Venezuela, and US folded into an article about the infamous standoff at the Chile summit a few weeks ago, worded in veiled vernacular terms at some length, though it is wider in scope than the suitcase o cash complaint. One interesting site that writes in similarly purposefully indirect terms about the reporting scene in Venezuela published an article this week reflective of another aspect of what HuCh might attempt to accomplish with the petroeuros at his disposition. The latter site, though often posting in two languages, significantly left the linked piece exclusively in Spanish; the host entity has membership throughout the region, so, couches its observation in the most acceptable terms.