Wednesday, August 15, 2007

No wonder he didn't check it!

From the NY Times a tale of mice and men:

Venezuelan businessman, Guido Antonini Wilson, 46, was stopped with a suitcase stuffed with cash by an airport customs official after arriving in Buenos Aires from Caracas on a plane chartered by the Argentine government’s national energy company.

The plane also carried four executives from Venezuela’s state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, and three Argentine government officials. The money’s source, and for whom or what it was intended, is still under investigation. But within days, (President) Kirchner dismissed Claudio Uberti, the Argentine official who had offered Mr. Antonini Wilson a seat on the plane. He also demanded answers from the government of President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. “I am not covering up anything,” Mr. Kirchner said at a public event last week, according to news reports. “My hands are clean."

In a news conference late last week, María Luz Rivas Diez, the Argentine attorney general, said Mr. Antonini Wilson had made 12 trips to Argentina in the past year, some for less than a day.
She told a Buenos Aires radio station over the weekend that she could not rule out money-laundering as a possible motivation, nor filing charges against Mr. Antonini Wilson, who had been allowed to leave Argentina and whose whereabouts were unknown.

This is interesting for a few reasons. Firstly, there is a Presidential election in Argentina at the end of October and Mrs. Kirchner is running. Though she is the clear front runner, this incident along with a recent oil pipeline kickback scandal, the discovery of $64000 in small bills hidden in the bathroom of the Economics Minister, and an investigation into charges that the regime has systematically underreported inflation, has dented the Kirchnerian reputation. Luckily for them, several of the competing candidates are economists and thus completely unable to exploit the situation. as the Time puts it: Yet so far, the fragmented opposition has been unable to seize on the crises for much political gain. The hapless response has become the butt of jokes in local papers, with the Buenos Aires newspaper La Nación last week calling the suitcase incident “an impeccable opposition marketing operation that only lacked a candidate capable of taking advantage of it.”

Secondly, this incident may prove to be a roadblock in the ever closer Venezuela-Argentina relationship. Chavez has recently re-financed a chunk of Argentine debt and signed agreements to provide natural gas to Argentina. The mighty have clearly fallen but Argentines can't be happy with this new dependence on Venezuela, and according to todays WSJ (editorial page so take it for what its worth) "The suspicion is that the cash was intended to play a role in October's presidential election" . Kirchner has, via his chief of staff, called on Chavez (who referred to the incident as a "US plot") to apologize. In response Roberto Hernández, vice president of Venezuela’s lower house, said President Chávez “doesn’t have to say sorry” to anyone.

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