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Cablegate: Argentina: Government Mostly Silent so Far About

VZCZCXYZ0004
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBU #1522/01 3092012
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 042012Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2413
INFO RUCNMER/MERCOSUR COLLECTIVE
RHMCSUU/FBI WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS BUENOS AIRES 001522

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL SNAR KCRM KJUS EFIN AR
SUBJECT: ARGENTINA: GOVERNMENT MOSTLY SILENT SO FAR ABOUT
EMBARRASSING MIAMI VERDICT

REF: (A) BUENOS AIRES 1477 (B) BUENOS AIRES 1405 AND
PREVIOUS (C) BUENOS AIRES 1475

1. (U) Summary: The November 3rd guilty verdict in the trial
of convicted illegal Venezuelan agent Franklin Duran was
front page news in Argentina November 4. Key prosecution
witness Guido Antonini-Wilson (A-W) was also quoted in most
dailies after he repeated in his first press interview his
contention that the money in the suitcase intercepted August
2007 was destined for the political campaign of President
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (CFK). The convincing nature
of a jury verdict appeared to change the tone of press
coverage, with local dailies giving a straightforward
description of Duran's guilt and several commentators drawing
links between the campaign finance scandal, general
government corruption, and the country's emerging financial
crisis. Only Minister of Justice Anibal Fernandez took up
the Kirchner cause with any vigor, continuing the argument
that key prosecution witness Guido Antonini-Wilson had lied,
first admitting the suitcase and money were his on arrival in
Argentina last August and then changing his story to support
a politicized prosecution. Opposition leader Elisa Carrio
noted that the "crime of Hugo Chavez and the Kirchners is now
proved. At least in other countries, justice is served." End
Summary.

Government Silence and Rising Suspicions
----------------------------------------

2. (U) Argentine media on November 4 noted that the GOA was
largely silent regarding the November 3 conviction of illegal
Venezuelan agent Franklin Duran in Miami. The conviction was
described as proving Duran's relationship with Hugo Chavez
and, by extension, the veracity of taped statements by Duran
and other conspirators that the USD 800,000 intercepted and
confiscated by GOA authorities on August 4, 2007, was was
bound for the Kirchner presidential campaign. Prosecution
witness Guido Antonini-Wilson's statements to the press
November 3 that the money came from Venezuelan state oil
company PDVSA and was bound for the CFK presidential campaign
was also given wide publicity. A-W also spoke extensively
about his intentions to clear his name in Argentina and that
he had hired a lawyer to do so. He asserted that he had been
in the presidential palace the day after his arrival,
something the GOA has denied repeatedly.

3. (U) Daily "La Nacion" writer Mariana Veron attributed the
muffled GOA response to its hope that the A-W "suitcase
scandal" was about to fade. Some may have expected a hung
jury or mistrial in the case. Instead, noted Veron, the
judgment came just as local media are paying increasing
attention to investigations of the Kirchners' campaign
finance. Lead "La Nacion" columnist Joaquin Morales-Sola
developed an understated yet stinging critique of the first
couple, noting first that the illicit money transfers seemed
proven; A-W, he thought, might have been wrong to believe the
money was bound for the CFK campaign, however, since
"Cristina didn't need these resources for her campaign, but
that it was possible the monies were part of a steady
transfer of illicit funds between Venezuelan and Argentine
officials. Thus the reality may be worse than
Antonini-Wilson suggested." he noted. Morales-Sola suggested
that while Argentines, unfortunately, were willing to look
past government corruption during good economic times, the
timing of the Miami verdict would hit the Kirchner presidency
hard because citizens were less tolerant of corruption during
hard times (reftel C). Like several other writers today,
Morales-Sola noted that the rest of the "Valijagate" affair
had to be revealed by Argentine justice and that to date its
investigation had been wanting. Investigative judge Petrone,
he noted, was campaigning for a position on the federal
appeals court, a judicial position assigned by the Council of
Magistrates, where the ruling party has sway. "The judge's
ambition is, at the least, inopportune," said Morales-Sola.

Anibal Fernandez Sticks to His Points
-------------------------------------

4. (U) Minister of Justice Anibal Fernandez again took the
lead for President Fernandez de Kirchner in response,
appearing on government-supported television news network C5N
to impugn witness A-W's credibility. He said the GOA thought
the legal proceedings in the Duran trial were intended to
"stain the country, to cover the lives of Argentines in mud,

in order to reward one person and punish another." Of Duran,
he said, "we don't care if they set him free or convict him."
Fernandez emphasized that A-W had acknowledged ownership of
the cash-filled bag on arrival in Argentina in August 2007
and that only later had "some lawyer" convinced him to change
his story. Fernandez questioned A-W's claim to have been at
the presidential palace, asking then "why isn't there any
photo."

And We Stick to Ours
--------------------

5. (U) In response to press inquiries, the Embassy Press
Officer gave a short statement late November 3 in which she
emphasized the independence of the judicial proceedings and
the USG commitment to positive and productive bilateral
relations. The statement received prominent placement in
Argentina's two most influential and highest circulation
dailies, "Clarin" and "La Nacion."

Opposition Takes Aim
--------------------

6. (U) Opposition Civic Coalition leader Elisa Carrio took
the opportunity to note that the "crime of Hugo Chavez and
the Kirchner couple was proven." She added that "not only
had both governments been delinquent, but both had tried to
cover up the crime from their own justice systems." The
verdict showed the "absolute institutional decline and the
network of enrichment and bribery between the two
governments."

Comment
-------

7. (SBU) The Duran conviction took even more space in the
front pages than did the U.S. election, which is being
obsessively followed here. Although the government will
continue to question the Franklin Duran verdict, its hope at
this point is probably that it disappear from the headlines
quickly. The relatively rapid and efficient U.S. judiciary
handling of the case (a final jury verdict rendered in less
than a year from the December 12, 2007 arrest of the
Venezuelan defendants) has only served to highlight the
convoluted Argentine legal process (under which the case has
been moved among prosecutors and is still in a discovery
stage). The unanimous jury verdict has sharply undercut the
GOA efforts to delegitimize revelations from the trial.
While the GOA has brought this political damage on itself, we
need to continue separating administration policy vis-a-vis
Argentina from the Miami legal process. At this point, a
more forceful reaction from the Kirchners would probably do
them more harm than good, a calculus that (if they share it)
should limit the diplomatic fallout from the verdict.
Whether CFK addresses the issue at a regularly scheduled
public address later on November 4 may give some more
indication of their approach. Future media attention will
depend on how the GOA reacts and on how A-W chooses to defend
himself against charges coming from Argentina.

KELLY

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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