Venezuelan had millions to spend in Bolivia, witness claims

Miami HeraldOctober 4, 2008 

As U.S. prosecutors rested their case in the Miami federal trial involving a mysterious suitcase filled with $800,000 sent from Venezuela to Argentina, their witnesses have shed light on the financial operations of the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The revelations include descriptions of a complex web of corruption and bribes within Venezuela and a multimillion-dollar slush fund intended for an international ally.

U.S. prosecutors say the $800,000 was intended as a gift from Chavez for the campaign of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who is now president of Argentina. The defendant, Franklin Duran, is accused of participating in a conspiracy to silence a Key Biscayne businessman about the money's origins and destination.

One of the witnesses, a Venezuelan businessman who has already pleaded guilty to participating in the alleged cover-up, testified this week that his country's ambassador to Bolivia had told him he had "$100 million to spend on Bolivia.''

The businessman, Carlos Kauffman, said he was negotiating to sell $12 million worth of anti-riot equipment to Bolivia, to be paid for with money from that fund in a deal dependent on his cooperation in the cover-up.

''I was asked by my government to do something, and I did it,'' Kauffman said of the cover-up. "It was going to [mean] more contracts, more money, more power.''

He said that the ambassador, Julio Montes, also dangled the possibility that he might allow Kauffman and his associate, Moisés Maionica, to manage the multimillion-dollar fund and earn money off the dividends. Maionica has also pleaded guilty in the conspiracy case and testified in the trial.

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