Argentine official resigns over flight, undeclared cash


Sat, Aug 11, 2007 - Page 7

An Argentine official resigned on Thursday after a Venezuelan businessman was found carrying about US$800,000 in undeclared cash on a government-chartered flight, the latest scandal to rock Argentine President Nestor Kirchner's administration.

Claudio Uberti, who ran a regulatory body for Argentine toll roads, was asked to resign after he let the businessman join an official Argentine delegation on the flight chartered by state energy company Energia Argentina, Planning Minister Julio De Vido said. Uberti agreed to step down.

Argentine authorities say Venezuelan businessman Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson was stopped early on Saturday by customs authorities at a Buenos Aires airport after US$790,555 was found in one of his suitcases.

Officials so far have given no explanation of why Antonini Wilson might have had the cash or what sort of business he is in.

The discovery also created political waves in Venezuela, where the head of the tax and customs agency Seniat said it had opened an investigation.

Jose Vielma Mora said Venezuelan law prohibits carrying more than US$10,000 in cash and such a sum should have been declared upon leaving. He said the Venezuelans aboard the chartered flight were not part of President Hugo Chavez's entourage during a recent visit to Argentina.

Local reports said Antonini Wilson wasn't detained and left Argentina on Monday. His whereabouts remained uncertain.

In Venezuela, public voter records show Antonini Wilson is registered to vote at the Venezuelan consulate in Miami, suggesting he lives there.

Venezuelan journalists and bloggers jumped on references to an Alejandro Antonini on the Internet, identifying him as auto racing enthusiast. It could not be independently confirmed that they were the same man.

Some blog sites listed Alejandro Antonini as one of the drivers who competed in Gumball 3000 races in Europe last year and this year. In last year's race, the team's red Ferrari bore a logo used by Chavez's government.

The discovery of the cash-filled suitcase and the subsequent resignation of Uberti marked the latest in a series of corruption scandals that have beleaguered Argentina's center-left government.