MIAMI — A U.S. grand jury on Thursday indicted five South American men on charges of being illegal agents of Venezuela in a scheme to hide the true source of $800,000 intended for the campaign of Argentina's new president.
The indictment stems from the discovery in August of $800,000 in cash in a suitcase carried on a private aircraft from Caracas, Venezuela, to Buenos Aires, Argentina. U.S. prosecutors have said the money was intended by Venezuela for the campaign of victorious presidential candidate Cristina Fernandez.
Fernandez and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have angrily denounced the investigation as politically motivated to undermine their governments. U.S. officials have denied that.
The man who had the suitcase, Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, is cooperating with the FBI and wore a recording device at many of the meetings, according to court documents.
Thursday's charges mirror those outlined in a criminal complaint used to arrest four of the suspects last week, but they also include more details of the alleged meetings and phone calls. The fifth suspect remains at large.
Angry protests in Venezuela
Indicted and in custody in Miami are Venezuelans Franklin Duran, 40; Carlos Kauffmann, 35; and Moises Maionica, 36; and Uruguyan Rodolofo Wanseele, 40. Also indicted but not in custody is Antonio Jose Canchica, 37, of Venezuela.
The four, who face up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines, are scheduled to enter pleas Dec. 28. Attorneys for the men have insisted they are innocent.
U.S. prosecutors have appealed a judge's decision to grant $150,000 bail to Wanseele, arguing that he is at risk of fleeing prosecution and is a danger to the community. His lawyer has filed papers calling the evidence against him weak.
In Venezuela, about 50 people protested the case Thursday outside the U.S. Embassy in Caracas.
Embassy officials were given a document demanding the U.S. government "stop using judicial terrorism" against the suspects. Police blocked the entrance to the embassy as protesters wearing red — the color of Chavez's ruling party — shouted "No to Yankee Imperialism!" and waved banners reading "Venezuela and Argentina Must Be Respected!"
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