Four alleged Venezuelan agents have been arrested in the U.S. and charged with trying to persuade a U.S. citizen to keep quiet about a growing international election scandal.
Miami businessman Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson
The U.S. Justice Department said the four wanted to prevent Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, a businessman from Miami, Florida, from talking to authorities.
On August 4, Antonini Wilson flew in a privately chartered aircraft from Caracas, Venezuela, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where customs officers discovered $800,000 in cash in his possession.
The U.S. Justice Department said Wednesday the four men charged wanted to stop Antonini Wilson from revealing the origin of the $800,000.
"The complaint filed today outlines an alleged plot by agents of the Venezuelan government to manipulate an American citizen in Miami in an effort to keep the lid on a burgeoning international scandal," Kenneth Wainstein, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a written statement.
The agents, who worked for the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, wanted to ensure Wilson did not disclose "the source and destination and the role of the government of Venezuela in the attempted delivery of the approximately $800,000," the statement said.
The Justice Department statement does not say Chavez personally knew of the transaction, but says the office of the vice president and members of the Venezuelan Intelligence Directorate were aware of the matter.
U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta in Miami said: "Today's complaint alleges an effort by the agents of Venezuela to travel to the U.S. for the purpose of coercing our citizens to help conceal the true nature of a growing international scandal."
Although documents did not identify which candidate was to receive the donation, federal law enforcement officials confirmed the funds were intended for the campaign of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who went on to win the election.
The four men -- three Venezuelans and one Uruguayan -- made an initial court appearance in U.S. District Court in Miami on Wednesday afternoon.
Those named in the complaint are identified as Moises Maionica, 36; Antonio Jose Canchica Gomez, 37; Rodolfo Edgardo Wanseele Paciello, 40; Franklin Duran, 40; and Carlos Kauffmann, 35. Officials said Gomez remains at large.
After Argentine customs found the $800,000 on Antonini Wilson, they seized the cash and sent him to Miami.
Later, however, an Argentine judge issued an order for him to appear in court and, at the request of the Argentine government, Interpol issued an international wanted notice for him, U.S. State Department officials said.
The officials said that on August 31, the Argentine judge requested Antonini Wilson's extradition. The request was delivered to the State Department on September 4, and Justice and State are currently reviewing the extradition request.
The U.S. officials said they do not expect to take any further action while the Justice Department is pursuing its investigation and prosecution of the Venezuelan and Uruguayan nationals arrested in Miami. Antonini Wilson is not in custody, they added. E-mail to a friend