'Player Overlap' between two scandals visible in Miami Trial
The true owner of the "N" number painted on the business jet used in the sting
against Hugo Chavez is a CIA contractor.
The luxury business jet carrying a suitcase filled with $800,000 in bribes whose discovery last August kicked off the Suitcase-Gate Scandal had the same American registration, or" N" number, as that of a plane flying for a CIA contractor in Iraq, the MadCowMorningNews has learned.
The so-called Suitcase-Gate Scandal is playing out in a trial currently underway in a Federal courtroom in Miami.
Newspaper photos taken of the Citation X top-of-the-line business jet right after the ill-fated suitcase flight show ‘N’ number N5113S on the tail.
But a Florida-based CIA air contractor called Air-Scan Inc. is assigned that tail number, according to FAA records, for a Cessna 182 flying in Iraq.
Air-Scan Inc. is an American military contractor which has—even for an American military contractor—a checkered past. Still, there has been no mention during the trial so far of the murky provenance of the plane.
Corruption Laid Bare...Or bare-Naked
Testimony in the trial indicated that the $800,000 in the suitcase, discovered by a rookie Customs Agent in Argentina, as well as $4.5 million in cash in a second suitcase which wasn't discovered, was a bribe from Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez to the couple running Argentina, former President Nestor Kirchner and his wife Cristina, the current President of Argentina.
The case hit the headlines this week because of the expected testimony of a star witness, the former comely Argentinean Customs agent who discovered the suitcase stuffed with $800,000.
María del Luján Telpuk has been transformed by her involvement in the case. The one-time nursery school teacher became an Argentine folk hero as well as a 3-page spread and her picture on the cover of the Argentina edition of Playboy.
Headline-writers had a field day: “Corruption laid bare!” screamed one.
“As evidenced by her loving embrace of the cameras at Miami International Airport,” reported the Miami Herald, “she is clearly savoring her 15 minutes of fame.”
What Maria wants, it turns out, is to be an ice-skater. A famous ice-skater.
American military contractor's 'checkered' history
The ploy--confusing investigators by using a single “N” number on two different planes, like two cars bearing identical license plate numbers-- was also used by planes busted with multi-ton loads of cocaine, a number of which were sold by SkyWay Aircraft in St. Petersburg.
So it may be something more than coincidence that the true owner of the "N" number painted on the business jet which delivered an embarrassing present to the President of Argentina is a CIA contractor.
The founders of Air Scan, Walter Holloway and John W Mansur, both have backgrounds as air commandos, the Air Force version of Special Forces, and met while flying in America's Secret War in Laos.
A quick look at their company's checkered past:
In December 1998, the Colombian Air Force dropped cluster bombs on Santo Domingo, a village near an Occidental pipeline, killing 18 people.
Human rights groups and Colombian government officials say the bombing was a massacre of 18 civilians by the Colombian military in Santo Domingo in December, 1998, when a pilot working for the US company, Airscan, Inc., under contract to the Colombian government to protect Occidental’s pipeline, directed the Colombian Air Force to drop a US-made cluster bomb on the village.
The American employees of the security company dropped out of sight. Human rights groups filed suit in California in 2003 and 2004 against Occidental, whose headquarters is in Los Angeles.
“U.S. Army Awards $165 Million Contract to Air Scan for Surveillance Support,” reads one typical recent headline about Air-Scan.
So they are, at least, doing well financially.
"Honey, did you pack the overnight bag with $800 grand?"
Suitcase-gate began with the mission flown by the Citation X between Caracas and Buenos Aires thirteen months ago.
Newspaper accounts stated the flight had been chartered by the Argentine Government.
Aboard were various Venezuelan oil execs and “yuppie socialist” cronies of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez. Chavez himself was scheduled to arrive on a state visit in three days.
Along for the ride was Guido Antonini Wilson, a mysterious Venezuelan businessman who took the fall for the $800,000 when he went through Argentinean Customs.
Guido had taken twelve similar trips between Venezuela and Argentina during the past year.
All were one-day turnaround trips. This did not leave Guido much time for sightseeing.
Presumably, Argentine Customs took note.
"Guido, meet the General. General, meet Guido."
The Customs check wasn’t supposed to happen.
The plane had been cleared to taxi directly, according to Argentinean newspapers, to the Presidential gate.
The $800K in the suitcase was intended for the campaign of the now President of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, a gift from Hugo Chávez, scheduled to arrive in town just three days later.
According to the Miami Herald, "Experts say that it was a bribe designed to expand Chavez’s leftist revolution."
Most people would agree that that would be just like him
You can't really trust someone wearing a raspberry beret.
Appearing in the Octagon one final time
Suitcase-gate is first and foremost, a titanic geo-political conflict, pitting George W. Bush in red-white-and-blue-trunks in one corner of the Octagon, versus his opponent, wearing the Raspberry Beret, Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez.
It is also the biggest international scandal to hit the Western Hemisphere in years.
Two dozen Latin American journalists are in attendance in a Miami courtroom to watch the trial of a wealthy businessman, accused of being an illegal agent for the socialist government of President Hugo Chávez.
The scandal has rocked Latin America hard, provoking outrage, potentially destroying political careers, and threatening to seriously damage U.S. relations with several Latin American countries, including Bolivia, Argentina, and Venezuela.
A diplomatic blow-by-blow"
Venezuela kicked out the U.S. Ambassador. So did Bolivia.
Then the State Department declared Bolivia’s ambassador to Washington persona non grata, and bid him go hence. They said they were also expelling Venezuela’s ambassador.
At the end of last week, Russia and Venezuela announced they were staging an unprecedented joint Russian-Venezuelan naval exercise.
Two huge Russian bombers, painted antiflash-white to deflect nuclear blasts, touched down on Venezuelan runways in preparation for the joint training exercise.
As a tribute to Fidel Castro, Chávez pledged to personally pilot one of the Russian bombers over Cuban skies.
Whether or not Chávez actually breaks out his flying goggles, Russia’s military presence underscores a new low in US-Latin American relations.
Diplomatic niceties aside, the state of affairs can be summarized as:
More instances of "player overlap"
SkyWay Aircraft, which exported at least five American-registered planes to Venezuela that were shortly thereafter busted hauling multi-ton loads of cocaine, is also involved in the Suitcase-Gate Scandal.
The drug allegations against Hugo Chavez were made by busted Venezuelan drug smuggler Feris Farid Dominguez, and repeated by U.S. diplomatic personnel last week. They led almost immediately to the breakdown in diplomatic relations.
Feris Fernandez’s testimony was also cited last week by U.S. officials when they accused the head of Venezuelan military intelligence, Gen. Hugo Carvajal, of protecting drug shipments. The result has been an almost complete diplomatic break.
Feris Dominguez was busted on Margarita Island, a small Caribbean island off Venezuela. Venezuelan officials seized 2.5 tons of cocaine as smugglers prepared to load it onto an Africa-bound private plane, a Beechcraft King Air, owned by Dominguez.
Dominguez had bought the plane, three weeks earlier, from SkyWay Aircraft of St Petersburg.
"Clan of the Cave Bear Generals"
Farid Feris Dominguez told investigators that several high-ranking Venezuelan officials helped him. His lawyer told the AP that Feris even obtained a Venezuelan diplomatic passport.
Feris is awaiting trial after being indicted in Washington on drug trafficking charges.
El Nuevo Herald reported last September that Feris Dominguez was negotiating with U.S. prosecutors to tell all about the alleged involvement of Venezuelan officers involved in drug trafficking.
He dubbed them “The Clan of the Generals.”
The alleged kingpin's organization was dubbed the "Cartel of the Suns,” for the stars worn on the uniform of Venezuelan Generals. It sent more than six tons of cocaine from Colombia into neighboring Venezuela, then smuggled it to the United States.
"All our scandals are the same."
6 Feris Fernandez is also a key player in the CIA Drug Plane Scandal which began two years ago when a DC9 airliner (N900SA) was caught carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine at a tiny out-of-the-way rural airport on the back side of the Yucatan.
While being loaded with cocaine at the airport in Maiquetía, Venezuela, the DC9 was reportedly being guarded by Venezuelan soldiers, before taking off for Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico, where it was supposed to refuel before traveling on to its final destination, the U.S. Instead, it was busted.
Law enforcement authorities say it belonged to Feris Fernandez, who bought it from the other SkyWay Aircraft in St. Pete-Clearwater.
They are supposedly distinct entities.
The DC9 incident was followed 18 months later by a second American-registered plane, a Gulfstream II business jet(N987SA), which broke into pieces while crash-landing in a jungle outside Merida in the Yucatan interior, carrying almost 4 tons of cocaine.
Both planes flew out of St. Petersburg, FL. Both have suspicious connections with U.S. intelligence.
The DC9 airliner had been painted to impersonate aircraft from the Dept of Homeland Security.
A number of former CIA and military intelligence operatives grace the top ranks of executives at SkyWay Aircraft in Clearwater, which owned the DC9, (and which authorities argue unconvincingly is not connected with the Skyway Aircraft in St Petersburg).
The Gulfstream II business jet (N987SA) busted two years later had been used for a number of years by the DEA, as well as by the CIA in extraordinary renditions.
Another target rich environment
The seizure of the 5.5 tons of cocaine was the inciting incident which led to the discovery of a money laundering scheme which became known as the CIA Drug Plane Scandal.
The scheme funneled money from South American drug traffickers, through a Mexican currency exchange, and then on to a Miami bank.
The laundered cash was used to buy a fleet of as many as 100 American planes to ferry cocaine and other narcotics around the world.
To date, only twenty of the planes involved have been identified.
As Bush prepares to leave office, the economy in free-fall, Hugo Chavez is saying he wants Venezuela to build a nuclear program... with the help of Mother Russia.
Chavez insists, as do the Iranians, that it would be for purely peaceful purposes.
The Suitcase-Gate Scandal’s one grace note:
The Bush Administration, down to its last seven weeks, may not be able to decide who to bomb first.
"Skating with the Cave Bear Clan"
After her Playboy debut, former Argentine Customs hottie Maria del Luján Telpuk spent six months rehearsing for her on-ice television debut, then was suddenly demoted to be an alternate on the country's top-rated show.
Argentine publications asked if she believes it was because of government pressure.
Maria declined to speculate. "I can't say that,'' she said. "They didn't say anything like that to me.''
But, just on the off-chance that she might get to practice while she's in town, the Miami Herald reported, she'd brought her ice skates with her to Miami, tucked into a hot pink bag.
Under the circumstances, going ice-skating in Miami seems as good a response as any.