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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Miami Spy Trial for Jury

MIAMI - (CN) The trial of a man said to be responsible for a briefcase stuffed with cash sent from Venezuela to an Argentine presidential candidate is before the jury today, after the government argued that defendant Franklin Duran is guilty of acting as a spy while the defense answered, "It simply did not happen."

"What the defendant did was a crime," said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Shipley in his closing late last week.

"There is no mystery what happened in this case," said the prosecutor, speaking with an even voice. "He was not acting alone." Shipley referred to Carlos Kaufman's testimony earlier this month, admitting his actions as a spy for Venezuela while implicating Duran.

The defense was more dramatic.

Defense lawyer Edward Shohat, dressed in a dark blue suit and deep red tie, described the prosecution as an attempt to put a "square peg in a round hole." He frequently walked over and pointed to Duran, who sat calmly in a dark suit and light blue shirt. "His life is on line the line here."

They jury will decide whether Duran is guilty of acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Venezuela. "Do not hesitate to change your opinion," Federal Judge Joan Lenard said in her instructions to the jury before closing. Her short black hair blended in with her robe and chair, contrasting with the white oval of her serene face. "In a very real way, you are judges, judges of the facts."

Duran's expression was calm, slightly somber.

The courtroom was packed with reporters, mostly from Latin America, sitting shoulder to shoulder in four rows of seats. During final arguments, the murmur of the translator was constant, as reporters scribbled furiously in Spanish.

At the heart of the trial is a briefcase holding $800,000, said to be from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez intended for Argentine presidential candidate Christina Fernandez de Kirchner.

Defendant Franklin Duran is accused of acting as an unregistered agent for Venezuela. The principal witness against him is his former business partner, Alejandro Antonini, who carried the famous briefcase and was caught trying to bring it through an Argentine airport.

The prosecutor's description Duran's trip to Miami was filled with references to hot local spots, like the Novecento restaurant, a popular after-work drinking establishment in downtown Miam, interrupted by text messages to friends in Latin America who would later join a list of defendants. The references to "the big bag of cash" that Miami resident Antonini would later be caught trying to smuggle into Argentina seemed to fit right in with the Miami high life described by the prosecutors.

But the message of the prosecutors was ultimately simple.

"If anyone is on U.S. soil on behalf of his government, we need to know who you are and what you're doing here," said Shipley. "The importance is obvious."

Employing a classic defense in spy cases, defense lawyer Shohat was loud and emotional as he explained that Duran had to come to Miami in his own "self-interest" and " as a friend" to Antonini who was recruited by the U.S. to entrap Duran.

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