Miami-Dade prosecutors on Monday dropped criminal charges against a Venezuelan businessman who had been been accused of stealing a $4.5 million jet from a former business partner.
Authorities in February said Jose Avelino Goncalves stiffed his former partner on payments for the 22-seat Gulfstream jet that was once purportedly owned by the bin Laden family of Saudi Arabia.
The alleged victim was businessman Luis Enrique Nuñez-Villanueva, a former slot-machine owner who used to partner with Goncalves and his brother in Venezuela in the casino business.
Goncalves is seeking political asylum in the United States after an arrest warrant was issued for him in Venezuela. The government there targeted Goncalves and his brother for running gaming parlors throughout Venezuela — and funding opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles in 2012, according to news accounts.
In the jet case, the prosecution fizzled after authorities in June, during an unrelated investigation, arrested the case’s lead detective: Karel Rosario, on allegations he stole high-end jewelry during a raid on a suspect’s house. He is awaiting trial.
Rosario’s credibility — and his failure to record a sworn statement from a key witness in the case — doomed the prosecution.
“Obviously, Mr. Nuñez is very disappointed,” said one of his lawyers, Carl Kafka.
Goncalves’ attorney, David Fernandez, said the case was never anything more than a business dispute.
“From the beginning, we said this case should have never been in criminal court,” Fernandez said. “We feel vindicated.”
The plane, now parked at Miami Executive Airport in West Kendall, will be returned to Goncalves.
Over the years, the plane has had a series of owners. According to the aviation database PlaneLogger.com, the jet was owned by Texas businessman James Bath. He was a former business associate of George W. Bush, who later became president.
According to numerous books, Bath was also affiliated with the wealthy bin Laden oil family — whose most notorious member, Osama, masterminded the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The plane was later sold to the bin Ladens in 1980, changing owners and registration numbers several times after that. Ultimately, records show, Nuñez-Villanueva bought the plane in 2009.