Venezuelan jailed 4 years in “suitcase scandal”

MIAMI, (Reuters) – A Venezuelan was sentenced to  four years in a U.S. prison on Monday for conspiring to conceal  an illicit contribution from his country’s leftist government  to the election campaign of Argentina’s current president.

Franklin Duran, 41, was convicted in November for his role  in the plot, which erupted in 2007 when a Venezuelan-American  businessman tried to enter Argentina with $800,000 in a  cash-stuffed suitcase.

Duran had faced a maximum of up to 15 years in prison.  Prosecutors had sought a term of 13-1/2 years beyond the 1-1/2  years he has already spent in prison. U.S. prosecutors said a witness in the case revealed the  money, which was alleged to come from Venezuela’s state oil  company PDVSA, was intended for Cristina Fernandez’s Argentine  presidential campaign — a charge she and Venezuelan President  Hugo Chavez denied.

Duran was one of five men accused of pressuring the  businessman with the suitcase, Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson,  to hide Venezuela’s role in the scandal.

He was the only suspect to stand trial, however, and his  attorney, Ed Shohat, argued that prosecutors only pursued the  case to embarrass Chavez, at a time when Venezuelan-U.S.  relations had plunged to a new low.

Antonini, a personal friend of Duran, testified during the  eight-week trial that he unwittingly carried the suitcase into  an airport in Buenos Aires and was unaware of its contents.

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