of the four prominent Chavezistas charged with illegally acting on
Hugo Chavez’s behalf in the recently-concluded
Suitcase-Gate Trial in Miami were inside players in a previous Venezuelan
scandal that took place well before Chavez ever took office, the
MadCowMorningNews has learned.
The Suitcase-Gate Trial was
supposed to spotlight a criminal Venezuelan elite of
Chavezistas, who taunt America,
threaten war with Colombia, and give sanctuary to Hezbollah.
testimony showed that Chavez's Venezuelan cronies are anything but wild-eyed
radicals. The vanguard of the working class drives Ferraris and lives in
McMansions in Miami, and is too busy making money, in oil, real estate, and
weapons and narcotics to wear masks over their faces, or raspberry-red berets
Both Carlos Kauffmann
and the just-convicted Franklin Duran got rich in a major
Venezuelan bank scandal during the mid-90's, when South Florida was a pirate’s
refuge for some 200 fugitive bankers who fled Caracas after diverting $7
billion in public funds to their own accounts.
The men had the capitalist
connections necessary to participate in the looting a Venezuelan bank oversight
agency, FOGADE, that ironically enough had been set up to stop the
hemorrhaging at the troubled Venezuelan banks looted by the fugitive bankers.
Kauffman, 37, is a
collector of airplanes and luxury cars who explained on the stand how he was
able to amass a fortune of more than $100 million through the simple expedient
of bribing Venezuelan government functionaries and entities.
At the age of 39, Franklin Duran is
reportedly worth $800 million.
Neither man has
built a better mousetrap, or done anything more
clever than align themselves with a Venezuelan elite which resembles the
vanguard of the working class much less than it does a kleptocracy very much like the
one which has just looted trillions of dollars from the American economy.
Real Guidos Don’t Sightsee
scandal began during the middle of the night on August 4, 2007, when a Citation
X luxury jet landed and taxied over to the general aviation terminal at Jorge
Newbery Airport outside Buenos Aires and disgorged a handful of passengers to
shiver in the chill night August air. August is
the middle of winter in the Southern Hemisphere. In Buenos Aires it had been a
cold winter. It had even snowed.
Onboard, nestled in the
cargo hold, was a soon-to-be-famous suitcase belonging to a portly
Venezuelan-American bagman, Guido Antonini Wilson. Stuffed inside Guido’s
suitcase were nearly 1600 crisp $50 dollar bills, tightly-wrapped in neat
rectangular stacks, almost $800,000.
At the Customs desk stood an
attractive and soon-to-be-famous Argentine
Customs Agent. As she monitored her scanner, she noticed something peculiar
inside one suitcase.
As María del Luján Telpuk
later told authorities, “There were six perfect, dense rectangles.
And they didn’t look like books."
When Maria looked up from
the rectangles, she later told reporters, almost everyone had faded away.
Smelling trouble, the line of passengers in front of her had immediately thinned
out. All except for one man, “mysterious” Venezuelan businessman
Guido Antonini Wilson.
Maybe Guido, who available
evidence indicates is prematurely portly, just didn’t move fast enough to avoid
being forced to admit that the suitcase was his. Or maybe everything seemed too
routine to arouse his suspicions.
Guido had already
taken twelve trips between Venezuela and Argentina in the past year.
All 12 trips had been one-day turnarounds.
hindsight, it’s easy to see that it was a bad time
to get caught with a cash-filled suitcase meant
for the President of Argentina.
Making headlines at the same
time was Argentina’s Economic Minister Felisa Miceli, who was attempting to
explain why $64,000 in cash had been discovered stashed in the bathroom of her
Miceli held a press
conference to tell reporters that… she wasn’t that kind of girl.
was naive, clumsy," she told reporters. "It was a mistake."
The affair, she stated,
"makes me look suspicious and that truly hurts. There could have been negligence
but I am sure I haven't committed any crime.”
Miceli said, "The
situation is much more simple and normal.”
Truer words may have never
Miceli was promptly fired.
Even in South America, two
stashes of cash making headlines at the same time is one stash too many for an
Administration to explain.
So Guido Wilson was caught holding the bag. But he took it
like a pro, and didn’t panic. Thinking on his feet, he made a half-joking
suggestion to the eight Customs officials surrounding him.
"Since there are eight of you," Guido told the Customs
officers, "and $800,000 in the suitcase, if each one of you walked away with
$100,000, it would be a perfect split.”
You have to admire that kind
of aplomb. Maybe that’s why the FBI made him an informant.
A serious plane for
jet involved also immediately aroused interest. Powered by two Rolls-Royce
turbofan engines, the Citation X is the fastest civilian jet ever built, with a
top speed of Mach 0.92 (703 mph). It was a serious plane.
Investigators seemed unable to determine why
Argentina's state energy company, which had its own planes, was spending $90,000
on a flight from a Buenos Aires air charter company called Royal Class.
Moreover the Citation X jet carrying Guido’s luggage was flying “off the
books,” on an expired temporary U.S. registration.
Yet the Argentine air
charter operating the flight, Royal Class—which later “bought” the jet from it's
now no longer anonymous American owner—is not being investigated
for its role in the scandal, an oversight which may owe something to the fact
that Royal Class is owned by the family of deceased Argentine kingmaker Alfredo
Yabrán, a multi-millionaire businessman with close ties to the military juntas
that ruled the country in the 1970's and 1980's.
When Guido Wilson told
Argentine Customs authorities he would be staying at an address in Buenos Aires
that wasn't a hotel, or even the Venezuelan Embassy. It was the headquarters of
Aylmer, a company owned by the family of Alfredo Yabrán.
Can your elephant play the piano?
Yabrán was the elephant in the courtroom during the Suitcase-Gate trial
that no one wanted to acknowledge. So just who is-- or rather was--
Yabrán was the country’s
leading beneficiary of the Argentine privatization of companies in the early
1990's, and, not coincidentally, a close friend of Argentine President Carlos
Menem. He grew extraordinarily wealthy during the 1990’s in exactly the same way
oligarchs in Russia and Eastern Europe did, by buying huge chunks of his
country’s infrastructure for pennies on the dollar.
In an earlier, simpler
time, bank robber Willie Sutton said the reason he stole from banks was because
that was where the money was. Not anymore. Yabrán didn’t steal from banks.
He stole from governments.
Yabrán is so well-known that
he’s in a political science textbook. In “Authoritarian Regimes in Latin
America: Dictators, Despots, and Tyrants,” Prof Paul H. Lewis
calls Yabran’s operation the “Grupo Yabrán Criminal Organization.”
Argentine newspapers have
strongly hinted that Alfredo Yabrán was deeply involved—perhaps even in control
of—drug trafficking and money laundering in Argentina. "Investigations into drug
trafficking pointed increasingly to a close friend of President of Argentina
Carlos Menem's, Alfredo Yabrán," Prof Lewis wrote.
Necklacing for Idiots
was so powerful in Argentina that, even though he was one of Menem's closest
advisors, his picture had never appeared in a newspaper. But when one did,
it led quickly to his downfall.
photographer Jose Luis Cabezas had had the temerity to snap Yabran’s picture one
day at the beach. It became the first published photo of the reclusive Yabrán.
After Cabezas was murdered--
handcuffed, beaten, shot in the head and burned to death in his
car--Yabrán went from being an invisible operator in the back corridors
of power to being called to testify before Congress, shadowed by the media, and
After a judge ordered his
arrest, Yabrán reportedly committed suicide, shooting himself at his ranch as
police arrived to take him in to be charged with the killing. But the
majority of Argentines believe Alfredo Yabrán faked his own death, and is still
Today his business empire,
the “Grupo Yabrán criminal organization,” is run by his son, Paul Yabrán.
Investigators were also
puzzled over why Antonini Wilson had been allowed to leave Argentina for
Into the breach stepped
Argentina’s Minister of the Interior, Annabel Fernández. Challenged by reporters
about why authorities hadn’t questioned Guido the Bagman before letting him
leave the country, she explained tartly that Wilson was allowed to leave
Argentina without giving testimony because the police "had no right to detain
According to Argentine daily
El Clarín, she said, "One is not entitled to stop a gentleman and ask him, 'Why
did you do that?'
Economy Minister Felisa
Miceli had been right. The situation was "much more simple and normal."
Everything was business as
Taking Tango One
Chávez arrived in Argentina several days later to ink an oil deal worth $200
million in the Presidential Palace. An effort was made to downplay what had
happened. A secretary to one of the Argentine officials involved claims Guido
was even at the signing ceremony.
Speculation centered on the
idea that Guido Wilson’s arrest was probably just a glitch. The
plane had landed at Newbery Airport in Buenos Aires at 2.30 in the morning, a
time when news reports stated the airport was normally closed.
Even if it had been open,
the Citation X had been cleared to taxi, according to Argentine newspapers,
directly to the Presidential Gate, where it would have no doubt received
friendlier treatment. But the gate was already occupied by Tango One, the
Argentine Presidential plane.
"Why is there even a
scandal?” Venezuela's Minister of Foreign Affairs gamely asked reporters. "Every
day things like this happen in all the countries of the world."
Maybe so, one might have
retorted. But its not every day they get caught.
"Crack the code... then drive away"
Miami, Guido made a beeline for the local FBI office, where he turned state’s
witness. He implicated Franklin Duran, a wealthy Venezuelan businessman, who
Guido said was trying to cover-up the source of the cash for Chavez.
Guido rolled. He
agreed to wear a wire. It's a common hazard of the trade.
Surveillance took place in
restaurants and cafes, like Jackson’s Steakhouse in Fort Lauderdale, located
on sophisticated Las Olas Boulevard. The “Rodeo Drive of Fort
Under high beamed ceilings
and rich mahogany paneling, Venezuelan "businessman" Carlos Kauffmann, 36, told
Wilson it was not in his best interest to have any “problems” in Venezuela.
Kauffman told Wilson, “Ask
for whatever you want. The President even told me you could have a license
to sell Argentine beef in Venezuela.”
The tapes caught Duran
telling Wilson that Venezuelan authorities no longer trusted him, and suspected
he was talking to American law enforcement. If he didn’t cooperate, Duran told
Guido Wilson, his children could be in danger.
foreign nationals—including two wealthy South Florida Venezuelans—faced federal
charges of being unregistered foreign agents for the Venezuelan government.
The only one of the four who
didn’t plead guilty was Franklin Duran, who prosecutors said made several
hundred million dollars funneling bribes to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's
A fifth remains at large...
Antonio José Canchica Gómez, an agent of Venezuela’s DISIP intelligence
service, met with Wilson while staying at the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel in
Along with thousands of
slots and card games, the casino holds contests called “CRACK THE CODE,”
and “DRIVE LIKE A SECRET AGENT.” The top prize is a car
like James Bond drove in the latest bond movie.
"Brownie you're doing a heck of a job."
to testimony at his Miami trial, Durán and co-conspirator Carlos Kauffmann had a
history of corrupt business dealings with the Venezuelan government, at national
and state level, and with the armed forces.
An international elite in both the U.S.
and the Latin countries that somehow doesn't have to play by the same rules as
mere mortals. The world is apparently full of people like Bush buddy Michael
Brown, the "brownie" who did such a "great job" at FEMA in New Orleans after the
They have no bright news ideas
to benefit humanity. What they have, instead, is access.
It's Crony Capitalism writ large. The
enrichment of the well-connected.
Wealth flowing to a small group of people who
are already wealthy and well connected.
Oligarchs, plutocrats, and fat cats.
No nations. No people. No West. No third world...
Just one holistic system of
systems, one vast, immanent, interwoven, multi-national dominion of
dollars...the international system of currency that determines the totality of
life on this planet.
the natural order of things; the atomic, subatomic and galactic structure.
the primal forces of nature.
they get caught, like in Suitcase-Gate, they
retreat into their wealth
and carelessness, until someone takes care of the problem for them, or makes
the sanction is not particularly
Community service. Two years in Lompoc.
"We all knew
the sorry truth."
Duran and Guido the Bagman drove in last year's Gumball Rally, which
after a fatal crash between
a Gumball driver's Porsche 911 Turbo, going over 100
miles per hour, and a
red VW Golf carrying
an elderly Macedonian villager and his wife.
A Gumball Rally
driver who also handled race PR came upon Duran right after he'd crashed his
car, and later wrote, "It was the
fourth serious accident of the day. The remains belonged to a £325,000 yellow Porsche Carrera GT."
"The guy was driving like a complete idiot," one of
the rally competitors later told me. "My
co-driver was with him earlier. He was so concerned by his driving that he
insisted he stop the car so that he could rejoin me."
"Miraculously, the driver of the crashed yellow Carrera, Franklin
Duran, walked away from the wreckage shaken but unhurt. The
67-year-old VW Golf driver and his wife, Vladimir and Margarita Cepuljoski, were
less fortunate. Both were killed."
"We all knew the
sorry truth. The drivers condemning Venezuelan oil tycoon Duran had also been pushing
the definition of safe driving all day. That
afternoon, the rally finally dispersed. All left behind them the wreckage of the
Rally. A few drove the planned route to an almost empty hotel in Berlin; others
headed for Prague, for the Euro tunnel, or private jets."
"No one from the rally
attended the funerals of Vladimir and Margarita Cepuljoski."
Sunday: The Suitcase-Gate Chickens
Come Home to Roost