She asked the passenger, Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, one of eight people aboard a private plane chartered by Argentina’s national oil company that flew from Caracas, to open the case. “He became frozen and did not say a word,” the policewoman later said in a radio interview.
When he did open it, nearly $800,000 in cash spilled out.
Mr. Antonini, a businessman with Venezuelan and American citizenship, is now at the center of a spy mystery and diplomatic imbroglio involving Argentina, Venezuela and the United States. American officials portray the episode as a rare glimpse into President Hugo Chávez’s use of oil wealth to spread his influence, saying the cash was destined for the campaign of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina’s new president.
Venezuela and Argentina describe it as an amateurish American attempt to smear their governments. Mrs. Kirchner has called the case a “garbage operation” by Americans, while Venezuela’s official news agency claimed this week that it was a plot by the Central Intelligence Agency.