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Page last updated at 11:23 GMT, Tuesday, 4 November 2008

US convicts 'suitcase cash' man

A courtroom drawing of Franklin Duran on 21 October 2008
Mr Duran's lawyer has vowed to appeal the conviction

An US court has convicted a Venezuelan businessman over an alleged Venezuelan government plot to influence last year's Argentine presidential election.

Franklin Duran, 41, acted as an illegal foreign agent in the US.

The US says Mr Duran went to Miami to silence a man who smuggled an $800,000 (500,000) campaign donation from Venezuela to the Argentine president.

The Venezuelan and Argentine presidents have rejected the charges, saying the trial was politically motivated.

Jurors deliberated for seven days, at one point indicating they were hopelessly deadlocked, before handing down a conviction.

Mr Duran faces up to 15 years in prison and will appear before a Miami court on 12 January for sentencing.

Mr Duran's attorney Ed Shohat said his client was entrapped by the FBI and vowed to appeal.

He called the eight-week trial "a political circus" orchestrated by the US to embarrass Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his allies.

The alleged plot 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 in a suitcase.

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

Mr Antonini was not charged with any crime and returned home to Florida, where he agreed to co-operate with US investigators in an operation that led to Mr Duran's arrest.

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 Mr Chavez's government to Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who was elected Argentine president in October that year.

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SEE ALSO
Suitcase scandal jury deadlocked
30 Oct 08 |  Americas
US court told of Venezuela graft
18 Oct 08 |  Americas
Q&A: Miami smuggled cash case
25 Sep 08 |  Americas
Guilty plea in 'suitcase scandal'
24 Apr 08 |  Americas
Five indicted over suitcase cash
21 Dec 07 |  Americas
Kirchner denies illegal funding
13 Dec 07 |  Americas
US arrests over cash-filled case
13 Dec 07 |  Americas


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