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Suitcase-Gate Decoded: A Bad Day In Buenos Aires

Suitcase-Gate Decoded: A Bad Day In Buenos Aires

November 24, 2008
by Daniel Hopsicker

A MadCowMorningNews World Exclusive!

At least two of the four defendants convicted of working as illegal foreign agents in Florida for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in the Suitcase-Gate Scandal had ties to an international criminal organization which was operating successfully in Venezuela, and with seeming official impunity, long before Chavez himself came to power, The MadCowMorningNews has learned.

Both the recently-convicted Franklin Duran, and Carlos Kauffmann, who pled guilty before the trial, took part in a $7 billion bank scandal during the mid-1990’s that involved insiders looting Venezuelan banks, and led more than 200 Venezuelan bankers to flee Caracas for exile in Miami.

Duran and Kauffman began their meteoric rise to commanding fortunes, by their mid-30’s, of $100 million in Kauffmann’s case, and a staggering $800 million in Duran’s, in the banking scandal.

Also looted, ironically, was the Venezuelan government’s response to the looting: the government institution to oversee banks and ensure they weren’t looted again.

"Guido the Bagman" Discovers La Revolution

When a U.S. jury in Miami recently convicted Venezuelan businessman Franklin Duran in the Suitcase-Gate Trial, the verdict raised more questions than it answered.

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The scandal, which soon became well-known throughout Latin America, began last year with the discovery of a mysterious suitcase filled with $800,000 in cash at an airport in Buenos Aires.

The $800,000, as well as $4.5 million in cash in a second suitcase which wasn't discovered, according to testimony in the trial, was a bribe--or, more charitably, a token of his esteem-- from Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez to Nestor Kirchner and wife Cristina, the former and current Presidents of Argentina, three days in advance of a state visit by Chavez last year.

Miami "businessman" Guido Antonini Wilson, hereafter known as "Guido the Bagman," said it was his suitcase. And then began the cover-up attempt that ended when four Venezuelan men were eventually convicted of attempting to secure Guido's silence about the source of the loot.

From the start, observers saw the purpose of the prosecution as being to embarrass and point a finger at corruption in the government of Venezuela’s current President (and Bush Administration bete noire) Hugo Chavez.

But while Chavez’s “Bolivarian revolution” was being singled out by Bush Administration prosecutors as the source of the corruption, the men acting on Chavez’s behalf have connections which have so far been ignored to scandals which occurred under past Venezuelan Presidents as well.

A really bad day in Buenos Aires

In stories today and over the next two days we will report the results of a two-month long investigation into the facts behind the Suitcase-Gate Scandal, and offer a partial reconstruction of what was, for those involved, “a bad day in Buenos Aires.”

Evidence unearthed to date points to a thorough-going cover-up. Among the items being concealed:

Details repeatedly left out or omitted, in both media accounts and in the trial itself, which would have identified not just the individuals charged in the case, but also implicated a larger criminal organization with corrupt ties to previous Venezuelan Presidents for at least the past two decades.

Among the crucial details being concealed is the role played by the international criminal organization of Argentine “businessman” Alfredo Yabrán, widely reported to have international Mafia connections as well as extremely close ties to the Argentine military juntas responsible for atrocities during Argentina’s “dirty war” in the 1970's and 80's.

Yabrán later became the Argentine kingmaker behind disgraced former President Carlos Menem. He was at one time so powerful in Argentina that his picture had never appeared in a newspaper.

When a photo of him was finally published, he had the journalist who took the photograph murdered: shot and then burned to death in his car.

Suitcase-Gate jet owned by client of Jack Abramoff

Also hidden from public view during the trial was the identity of the owner of the American-registered (N5113S) top-of-the-line luxury Citation X jet carrying the cash-filled suitcase flight to Buenos Aires.

As we reported in our last story, the jet carried the same registration, or" N" number, as that of a plane flying for Air-Scan, a CIA aviation contractor in Iraq.

In tomorrow’s follow-up story, The MadCowMorningNews will publish another exclusive: the plane’s official FAA registration, which can be traced to a former major client of disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The plane was owned, the registration records indicate, by a woman who first struck it rich as a 800-number sex-lines porn mogul, then as an Internet “porn princess,” and finally as majority owner of one of the world’s most lucrative online gambling sites.

Today she is an American living in exile in Gibraltar, and one of the world's wealthiest women.

Her picture has never appeared in a newspaper, either.

Mafioso connection never heard in court

Another apparently pivotal player unmentioned at the trial is Alex del Nogal, who fled Argentina the same day his associate Guido Antonini Wilson was caught smuggling a cash-stuffed suitcase into Buenos Aires.

One month later, Del Nogal was arrested in Italy after an international manhunt. He was charged, and later convicted, of international narcotics trafficking.

Amazing but true: this particular “Guido associate” had been serving 20 years in Venezuelan prison for murdering a business rival by shooting him in the head and then dropping him from a plane into the Caribbean… until being pardoned by Hugo Chavez in 2001, and appointed to the Venezuelan secret police.

It had all the elements of a first class spy thriller: An impressive stash of contraband cash, winging its way to Argentina in the middle of the night, on a Cessna Citation X luxury business jet, the fastest civilian airplane in history.

And there was a strong whiff of drug and arms trafficking, made more plausible by the fact that the Citation is faster than any drug interdiction planes of the DEA, or, for that matter, of almost any other country in the world

Hezbollah, the U.S. 4th Fleet, & Disinformation

Suitcase-Gate had real world consequences. Venezuela began staging war games with Russian forces. Argentina and Bolivia kicked out their U.S. Ambassadors. Venezuela spent billions of petrodollars on Russian weapons.

And Hugo Chavez “reached out,” as they say on the Soprano’s, to Iran, cultivating warm bilateral relations.

Not to be out-done, the U.S. Navy reestablished its Fourth Fleet, which had been disestablished way back in 1950, to oversee U.S. naval activities in Latin American and Caribbean waters.

And Western officials began expressing fears that the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah is using Venezuela as a base for operations.

What was going on? Was all this over a lousy $800 grand?

Did Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez really spend $30 billion dollars to win influence in South America? Was Chavez trash-talking Uncle Sam while sending money and weapons to FARC guerrillas in Colombia? What's the truth about the charge that Venezuela is doing business with Hezbollah?

Clearly the citizenry of all three countries—the U.S., Venezuela, and Argentina— deserve to know more.


What's Spanish for "business as usual?"


- Daniel Hopsicker is the author of Barry & 'the boys: The CIA, the Mob and America's Secret History. About the author. - Email the author.

IMAGE: Welcome To Terrorland


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