Verdict in on suitcase scandal, as fresh details of shady campaign financing emerge

Yesterday, as a Miami court declared one Venezuelan, Franklin Durán, of conspiracy and acting illegally as a foreign secret agent in the US, his one-time hapless associate, Guido Antonini Wilson, went on CNN to assure that the suitcase with some $800,000 in US bills, captured by Argentine customs agents last year, was destined for the electoral campaign of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Unsurprisingly, neither the judgment nor the CNN interview elicited any sort of comment from the Casa Rosada, or pink house – the seat of Argentina’s executive here in Buenos Aires.Today's cover of La Critica

When the scandal first broke last December, the Kirchners’ initial response was to denounce a CIA plot to destabilise their government, the president and her associates later shifted gear, accusing Antonini Wilson of being a fugitive from Argentine justice, and daring him to declare before in an Argentine court. In fact, Antonini Wilson was allowed to leave Argentina unmolested just days after the suitcase was discovered, and having visited the Casa Rosada in person. He told reporters he is more than happy to declare before an Argentine judge, and has in fact already contracted a lawyer for his defence.

Now some hope that the Argentine justice system – which struggles to assert its independence from the executive and is rife with corruption and inefficiency – will indeed open a home-grown investigation into the matter of whether Chavez illegally funded Fernández de Kirchner’s campaign.

Meanwhile, the cash-stuffed suitcase isn’t the only thing casting doubts of her campaign finance. Campaign funding has never been particularly transparent in Argentina, but after newspapers published reports that a supposed narco-trafficker, Sebastián Forza, who was assassinated in August in a mafia-style shooting, had financed her campaign to the tune of 200,000 pesos.

Now the public prosecutor is investigating “ghost donations:” several people who swear they never gave a penny to Kirchner’s presidential campaign figure on the legally required donor lists as having donated large sums well beyond their means. La Nacion has named several such ghost donors, three of wholm were registered on the same day, November 22, 2007, as having made cash donations.

More details on suitcase scandal as Argentina scores poorly on corruption index

For the third year running, Argentina has has been placed among the world’s – and the region’s – most corrupt nations, just as fresh details are emerging about dodgy campaign financing between Hugo Chavez and president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

On Monday this week, Transparency International released its Corruption Perceptions Index, where Argentina scored 2.9 on a score of 1-10, where 10 is the cleanest and 1 the most crooked. In the by-country ranking, Argentina came 109th among 180 countries, with squeaky-clean Denmark, New Zealand and Sweden at the top and basket case Somalia at the bottom.

Following hot on the tails of this bad news came further details in “Valijagate” or the suitcase scandal that’s besetting the Argentine and Venezuelan governments. The suitcase bearer, Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, testified yesterday in a Miami court that the US$800,000 he was carrying – which is said to have been illegal and undeclared campaign finance from Hugo Chavez to Cristina Kirchner – was only part of the story and that a separate suitcase on the same plane contained a further US$4 million.

The steady flow of details from the Miami hearing is casting a shadow over Kirchner’s triumphant trip to New York, where she’s been promising to pay off debtors and giving the US a lesson in economic management (see previous post).

Corruption is a serious human rights issue, according to Transparency International chair Huguette Labelle – as serious as life and death when money for basics like medicine  and clean water is in play.  “The continuing high levels of corruption and poverty plaguing many of the world’s societies amount to an ongoing humanitarian disaster and cannot be tolerated,” she said. “But even in more privileged countries, with enforcement disturbingly uneven, a tougher approach to tackling corruption is needed.”

Of Argentina’s Latin neighbours, Chile and Uruguay scored best with 6.9 and a rank of 23 (the same ranking and score as France, and just three spots behind the USA, which scored 7.3 and was placed at no. 18 on the list). Colombia scored a 3.8, Peru and Mexico 3.6, Brazil 3.5, Bolivia 3.0, Ecuador 2.0 and Venezuela 1.9.

Delia Ferreiro Rubio, president of Poder Ciudadano (or “Citizen Power”), an Argentine anti-corruption NGO, said she wasn’t surprised at her country’s poor score. “We still don’t have a law guaranteeing public access to information, our public contracts lack transparency, there’s a large degree of discretion in the distribution of public resources and there’s shady financing of political campaigns,” she said.

Transparency International’s CPI (Corruption Perceptions Index) is a composite index that draws on different expert and business surveys to measure the perceived levels of public-sector corruption in a given country.