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.