Hey Mister! Can you spare a million in cash?

August 9, 2007

No sooner had Hugo Chavez screamed ‘media manipulation” or “plot against Venezuela” when referring to the mysterious man that showed up last Saturday in an airport in Buenos Aires with a suitcase filled with $800,000 in cash, that names began to come out and the furthest thing it looked like, was that there was any manipulation at all.

In fact, what the case did show is that clearly Argentina has a much freer press and independent judiciary than Venezuela. If it were not for the slew of news and leaks coming out of that country, we would know very little about the case.

To make a long story short, a private plane arrives from Caracas in the wee hours of the night last Saturday. One of the passengers is stopped and asked what he has in his suitcase and he responds books. They ask him to open the suitcase and they find US$ 800,000 in cash. He says the money is not his and he is part of the Chavez contingent in his official visit to that country. The Venezuelan Ambassador to Argentina denies this is the case saying it is a plot to blemish Chavez’ visit and the infamous program La Hojilla even dares say that the man being accused actually voted against Chavez, which he checked in the same Tascon/Chavez database that Chavista fanatics claim is not being used and has never been used by the Government against its enemies.

But it turns out that even that was a lie and the guy is one of the owners of petrochemical company Venoco, a well known supporter of the Government who acquired a majority stake in that company two years ago.

But it also turns out that in the same flight was a high official from the Argentinean planning Ministry, the same one that appeared on the steps of the Miraflores Palace a year or so ago talking about the exchange of calves for oil and how the two countries would progress together. And just then, Argentinean oil company Enarsa (which chartered the plane) comes out and denies that any of its employees were involved, saying that the plane was full of PDVSA employees. That these people boarded the plane at the request of PDVSA people and it included some PDVSA executives, the son of a PDVSA executive and a “friend”, who just so happens to be the one carrying the US$ 800,000.

But besides the large amount of cash, which would make it suspicious in any case, since that is not precisely the custom in large transactions which are legal, little has been said about the fact that carrying such amounts of cash in foreign currency in Venezuela is simply illegal. In fact, you can’t have more than US$ 10,000 and the foreign exchange office only gives you US$ 600 per year in cash. The rest, you have to spend with your credit card when you travel and you only get something like US$ 5,500.

So, besides the interest in what the money would be used for, the Venezuelan Government has to explain how the money managed to get on board the plane and what airport it was boarded on. And the person detained in Buenos Aires will have to explain where in Venezuela he managed to get such a large amount of cash at a time that it is precisely foreign currency in cash which is banned in the country. Just a week ago I wrote about the fact that despite the ban on ANY flights to or from the La Carlota airport in Caracas, a couple of dozen or so flights carrying the members and friends of the robolution land and take off daily from that airport. Want to bet this is where that flight originated?

And it is perhaps ironic that today two people who claim to support the Government, showed up at the National Assembly to present proofs for their accusations of corruption in PDVSA. They were not greeted with much happiness by Deputy Tascon who said that people could just not show up any time they wanted to present such material, after it was him that challenged them to provide such proof. In the words of the two denouncers, it was time for the Assembly and the Comptroller to stop acting like Chinese ornaments and so something about their accusations.

But this all simply reveals the depths of corruption and the flow of money that surrounds the robolution. Slowly it is leaking out as the lack of checks and balances has allowed Government officials at all levels to skim all over the place and move around without control. And the cesspool is overflowing. Only two years ago, a former Vice-Minister of Finance was caught also in a private airplane landing in Florida, carrying some US$ 60,000 to buy “Christmas presents” in his own words. Only a few months earlier he had been at the center of all major financial operations of the country on the side of the Government.

This blogger suspects that the funds being carried by this friend of the robolution came from close to the top and represented some form of political aid to either Argentinean political groups or directly to help in he campaign of Presidential candidate Cristina Kirchner. This probably explains the silence and cooperation out of that country initially to cover up the details of what happened at that country’s customs.

While we may learn a lot from the Argentinean side in the upcoming days, we are also certain that the details on this side will be clouded in the same veil of mystery as all major corruptions scandals have in the last eight years.

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