Page last updated at 15:54 GMT, Thursday, 30 October 2008

Suitcase scandal jury deadlocked

A courtroom drawing of Franklin Duran on 21 October 2008
Franklin Duran has said he was set up by the FBI

A US judge has ordered the jury in the trial of a Venezuelan man accused of being an illegal agent of a foreign government to continue deliberations.

The jury told the judge on Wednesday they were deadlocked over the guilt or innocence of Franklin Duran.

Mr Duran is accused of going to Miami to try to help his government hide the source of a cash-filled suitcase that sparked an Argentine election scandal.

The judge says if a verdict cannot be reached, she will declare a mistrial.

A second trial would then be scheduled.

"We cannot reach a unanimous verdict," the jury said in a note to Judge Joan Lenard after deliberating for more than three days.

Judge Lenard replied with instructions for them to keep trying.

'Campaign contribution'

The alleged plot on which the trial is based first came to light when Guido Antonini Wilson, a Venezuelan-American businessman based in Florida, was stopped in August 2007 as he tried to enter Argentina carrying $800,000 (488,000) in a suitcase.

Mr Antonini, who holds dual Venezuelan-US nationality, was not charged with any crime and was able to return home to Florida.

Guido Antonini Wilson leaves the Federal Court in Miami (23/09/2008)
Mr Antonini says he did not know he was carrying the money

Soon after he returned, Mr Antonini agreed to co-operate with US investigators in an operation that led to Mr Duran's arrest.

Mr Duran is accused of operating illegally in the US as an agent of the Venezuelan government and conspiring to secure Mr Antonini's silence about the money.

Prosecutors said the evidence clearly showed that Mr Duran had come to Miami to cover up the source of the suitcase cash at the request of the Venezuelan intelligence service.

They say the money was intended as a campaign contribution from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's government to Cristina Fernandez de Kichner, who was bidding to be elected president of Argentina in elections in October that year.

Lawyers for Mr Duran, who has pleaded not guilty, say he was set up by the FBI.

Four other men have admitted involvement in the attempted cover-up and say the Venezuelan intelligence agency played a central role.

Mr Duran faces 10 years in jail if found guilty.

President Chavez and President Fernandez have both said the trial is politically motivated.

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