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Cablegate: Argentine Valijagate Investigation Moving Slowly

VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBU #0462 1011203
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 101203Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0757
INFO RUCNMER/MERCOSUR COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHMCSUU/FBI WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHMFIUU/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL IMMEDIATE
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS BUENOS AIRES 000462

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KJUS PREL SNAR KCOR VZ AR
SUBJECT: ARGENTINE VALIJAGATE INVESTIGATION MOVING SLOWLY

REF: 07 BUENOS AIRES 2380 AND PREVIOUS

1. (SBU) Summary: The Argentine investigation into the
origin and destination of USD 800,000 seized from a
Venezuelan-American passenger arriving on a chartered flight
from Caracas last August continues to move forward slowly. A
new judge has been assigned to oversee the money laundering
and customs infractions case, but the two Venezuelans
previously scheduled to face charges April 9 in court
announced through their lawyer that they would not appear.
End summary.

Two No Shows
------------

2. (U) Daniel Uzcategui Specht, 20, and his father, former
PDVSA Vice-President Diego Uzcategui Matheus, announced
through their lawyer that they would not present themselves
in court April 9 to face charges of money laundering and
smuggling in connection with the seizure of $800,000 last
August. The two were passengers on the small plane that
brought in the money. The Uzcategui's lawyer Hugo Pinto
claimed his clients (currently living in Venezuela) were
having trouble leaving the country because of passport
problems; they had already postponed court appearances twice
before. The prosecutor in the case, Maria Luz Rivas Diez,
reportedly will request that the judge file a warrant for
their arrests.

3. (U) The defense lawyer has also requested the recusal of
the prosecutor -- a petition that outgoing judge Marta
Novatti is expected to respond to on April 14. A new judge,
Daniel Petrone, 36, was named to the "economic crimes" bench
and assigned to this case on April 3 and officially takes
over on April 22. Petrone will have to respond to the
prosecutor's request to declare former GOA official Claudio
Uberti as a suspect in the case. Uberti was a recognized
protege of Planning Minister Julio De Vido. He was fired
from his job following the scandal but reportedly has not yet
been questioned by prosecutors as they are deciding first
whether to charge him.

4. (SBU) Comment: Related to this case, there is a separate
criminal investigation into the possible misappropriation of
GOA funds to charter the jet that brought the infamous
suitcase from Caracas to Buenos Aires during Argentina's
pre-electoral period. Both cases are proceeding at a
dilatory pace. The Uzcateguis' absence is yet another delay
for the money laundering investigation. Although Argentine
prosecutors requested the extradition from the U.S. of
Antonini-Wilson, they have not interviewed most of the
characters involved. Uberti's secretary Victoria Beresziuk
is the only passenger on the August 4 flight from Caracas who
has testified to date, and it seems unlikely the prosecution
will call further witnesses. Although no longer front-page
fodder, procedural developments in the Argentine cases are
duly noted in the press, which has contrasted them with the
dramatic pace of the distantly related Miami court case, in
which two of the four defendants have already pled guilty.
However, we have no doubt that any new significant
revelations in this case would again be on page one. End
Comment.
WAYNE

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