Cablegate: Argentine Witness in Miami Trial Continues To


DE RUEHBU #1401/01 2841845
O 101845Z OCT 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Sumary: After ten days in Miami, former Airport
Security Police Officer and witness in the Antonini-Wilson
case, Maria Lujan Telpuk returned to Buenos Aires on October
9 and continued (reftel) to question the way the FBI
intercepted and interviewed her at Miami International
Airport on September 28. Telpuk, the former Argentine
airport security officer who discovered Antonini-Wilson's
cash-stuffed suitcase in August 2007, said she was
"surprised" but not ill-treated by the FBI agents who
interviewed her at the Miami airport as she traveled to the
US to testify in the trial of Franklin Duran. Argentine
Ambassador to the United States Hector Timerman seized on
Telpuk's remarks to assert the FBI had unduly pressured
Telpuk, that there had been a pattern of questionable actions
taken by the FBI, and that the GOA could ask an international
tribunal to review the appropriateness of FBI actions. The
issue has continued to attract significant media attention.
The Foreign Ministry is convoking the Ambassador to meet with
Foreign Minister Taiana today, October 10, apparently to
register a protest on the alleged "mistreatment" of Telpuk.
End summary.

FBI Interview Upon Further Reflection...

2. (SBU) After ten days in Miami, former Airport Security
Police Officer and witness in the Antonini Wilson case, Maria
Lujan Telpuk returned to Buenos Aires on October 9 to a media
frenzy. Telpuk gave numerous print and broadcast interviews
on October 9 and 10, and offered additional details of her
encounter with FBI agents at Miami International Airport
reported previously in reftel. She told the press that she
was "surprised" by the fact that the FBI agents looked for
her upon arrival at Miami International Airport and "locked
her up in a room with three FBI agents" to talk to her "for
over two hours." She characterized her interview with the
FBI as "a mess. One of the agents did not speak Spanish,
another spoke very little, and the third (female) agent spoke
the best." She asserted that "it was a very messy form of
communication that served their strategy. They wanted me to
contradict myself." She insisted that she was not informed
of her rights or told she could refuse to answer questions.
She also complained that the FBI cited portions of the
interview in court. "I never thought they would behave like
that," she said.

3. (SBU) Recounting what she described as the FBI agents'
offer of political asylum and assistance in finding a
modeling job in the United States, Telpuk explained to the
press that at first, she did not connect the FBI offer to her
court testimony in the Franklin Duran trial. "That's why I
thought they were very nice at first," she said. After
talking to Franklin Duran's defense lawyers, however, she
said that she concluded that the FBI's offers were "something
similar to bribery." She added that, "Sometimes, I am very
gullible. To be honest, I realized this afterwards, after I
had spoken to the lawyer (of defendant Franklin Duran)... It
is my impression that if I had gone to the modeling agencies
(the FBI) mentioned, they would have hired me, and, the way
they handle things there, everything would have changed, even
my testimony." She reiterated, however, that the FBI "did
not treat me badly. They didn't insist. They simply made a
suggestion and told me to go to these places and that they
were sure I would be lucky... Thank goodness I kept my feet
on the ground and didn't accept. I think if I had accepted
they would have asked me directly to change my testimony."

4. (SBU) On October 10, left-of-center, pro-government
"Pagina 12," pro-government "Buenos Aires Economico,"
centrist mass-circulation "Clarin," centrist "La Prensa," and
various television and radio stations reported Telpuk as
saying that the FBI "protects and covers up" Antonini Wilson
all the time. "Pagina 12" quoted her as saying that she was
"positive they did not want (her) to testify against Antonini
Wilson." In a different statement to the press, Telpuk
reiterated that she was neither mistreated nor pressured by
the FBI agents, but said that the experience was "not easy"
and that she had been afraid.

Telpuk's Comments on the Trial Itself


5. (SBU) In the October 9 edition of largest circulation
daily "Clarin," Telpuk complained about the tone prosecutors
used with her when cross-examining her at the trial. She
stated that "the prosecutors put too much focus on my private
life and sought to discredit my statement." (Note: After the
"valijagate" scandal first broke, Telpuk exploited her
new-found celebrity to pose for the Argentine edition of
"Playboy" and participate in local TV competition "Ice
Skating with the Stars.") According to "Clarin," although
Duran's attorney Ed Shohat succeeded in convincing Judge
Lenard to reject the use of Telpuk's Playboy photos as
evidence to discredit her testimony, the judge allowed
prosecutors to suggest that Telpuk capitalized on "her moment
of glory and fame" to make money. Despite these complaints,
Telpuk expressed satisfaction at being able to "tell the
truth" before the court in Miami. She told "Clarin," "My
final evaluation is very positive and I hope the final result
is known."

--------------------------------------------- ----------
Timerman Derides U.S. Judicial Independence in the Case
--------------------------------------------- ----------

6. (SBU) In an interview with newspaper-of-record "La Nacion"
published on October 9, Argentine Ambassador to the United
States Hector Timerman claimed that FBI agents "pressured"
Telpuk during the meeting at the airport and that these
tactics raise doubts about "judicial independence in the
United States." He also raised the possibility of bringing
the case to an "independent international tribunal."
Timerman expressed concern "that an Argentine citizen waiting
in line for immigration control was taken away to be
interrogated. This is not the first time this has happened,
especially in Miami. In this case, the situation is worse
because the person involved came to fulfill her duties with
the worries me that this individual could not give
testimony in Court without first being pressured or
questioned by agents of the Department of Justice." When
asked by the press if the GOA would raise a formal protest
with the State Department, he said not until Telpuk made such
a request.

7. (SBU) Timerman also told the press that the FBI-Telpuk
interview exemplifies how the FBI has mismanaged the Antonini
Wilson case, and cited three additional examples: 1) "taping
people without their knowledge that they are being taped by
the authorities," 2) "preparing the questions Antonini used"
during his meetings with the suspects, and 3) "writing the
letter Antonini signed and sent to Chavez."

8. (SBU) He concluded that "for this reason, (the Argentine
government is) completely opposed to the way in which this
case is being handled and believe that if these activities
are brought before an international tribunal sometime in the
future, it will be shown that these tactics are not the
accepted norm by the majority of countries. We do not
discard the possibility (of raising the case before an
international court). We would like the FBI's actions in
this case to be evaluated by an independent international
court. We believe that there are certain issues where
Argentina has to protect its interests and the interests of
its citizens, and we believe when law enforcement
interrogates a witness before that witness has an opportunity
to present themselves before the court casts doubts about the
judicial independence of the court and whether the witness
has been able to act freely and in accordance with their
conscience. We believe that the (FBI's "interrogation" of
Telpuk) in an airport without previous notice is an attempt
to influence her response or behavior before the Court. We
believe that the witness has been pressured, coerced, call it
what you will. (She) did not arrive (before the Court) in
full liberty to testify according to her conscience. We do
not doubt her testimony, but rather the independence that the
judiciary has to interrogate a witness who has previously
been pressured or frightened by a police authority such as
the FBI." Timerman also claimed that the Argentine
government has not received an answer regarding their request
to extradite Antonini-Wilson.

9. (SBU) On the morning of October 10, the Foreign Ministry
informed the Embassy that Foreign Minister Taiana wished to
convoke Ambassador Wayne to his office apparently to protest
the USG's treatment of Telpuk on her arrival to Miami. The
Foreign Ministry subsequently asked that the meeting be
one-on-one. It will occur later on October 10, and we will
report the results septel.


10. (SBU) Although Telpuk's statements regarding her
experience with FBI agents in Miami appear to be
inconsistent, they are most likely colored by the
prosecutors' tough cross-examination during the trial and her
subsequent conversations with Duran's defense lawyers. Her
statements about not being read her rights during her
interview with the FBI also reflect a poor understanding of
how our judicial system operates. In the court of Argentine
public opinion, however, fine legal distinctions count for
little, and the GOA is eagerly describing the Telpuk incident
in Miami as witness tampering in order to advance its view
that this case represents a politically motivated conspiracy.
The media have given this wide coverage with negative twists
ion the protrayal of the U.S. justice system. On guidance
provided by Washington, the Embassy has not commented.


© Scoop Media

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