Last week appearance of a series of notebooks meticulously written by a former corrupt functionary’s driver has revealed one of the most detailed proof against the recent Argentinian governments by Nestor Kirchner and his wife Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner on corruption charges.
The case is being held by Federal Judge Claudio Bonadío, who has already arrested more than thirteen people (a record in corruption cases), including businessmen and former state functionaries involved in the documents. They also complicate the situation of already imprisoned ex Minister of Planning Julio De Vido and of Cristina Fernandez who has been cited for an inquiry on 13th August. Former Federal Judge Norberto Oyarbide and Javier Fernandez, from General National Audit, are also called to testify.
The case keeps growing on dimension and scandal every hour and some local journalists and political analysts mention that it could become the local equivalent to recent Brazilian Lava Jato or Italian nineties case known as Mani Pulite.
The eight notebooks were written by Oscar Centeno, who was personal chauffeur for Roberto Baratta, one of De Vido’s strong men during the years of Kirchner and his wife presidencies. There he wrote with extreme care every meeting, every trip and carrying of handbags full of money from bribes to different spots that incredibly included the Presidential Residence of Olivos and Kirchner family apartment in Recoleta, in Buenos Aires.
This year, on January, La Nación journalist Diego Cabot received a box with the notebooks, which also included videos, photos and other documents, from an ex-police officer who had received them from Centeno himself. Cabot and his team made a lot of checking of the information related there, especially in the accuracy regarding trips and addresses.
Before publishing anything they went to the federal court to present the evidence, in the fear that a media scandal could make the suspects vanish to evade prison. At this very moment there are still people wanted for the police forces.
So far the imprisoned are the mentioned Oscar Centeno and Roberto Baratta, former Secretary of Planning; Nelson Lazarte, his private secretary; Enrique Llorens, former Secretary of Coordination and Control of Federal Planning; Hugo Martin Larraburu, former Technical Coordinator of the Head of Cabinet; Walter Faygas, former President of Enarsa (public company for hydrocarbons exploitation); Gerardo Ferreyra, former President of Electroingeniería (private company with an explosive growth in the recent years due to public work arbitrary tenders); Jorge Guillermo Neira, former Vice-President of Elecroingeniería; Javier Sánchez Caballero, former CEO of IECSA (a construction company owned back then by President Mauricio Macri’s cousin); Armando Roberto Loson, President of Albanesi Group; Carlos Mundin, president of BTU; Claudio Javier Glazman, Director of the Latin American Investment Society; Carlos Wagner, former President of the Argentinian Chamber of Construction; Juan Carlos De Goycochea, former Directive at Isolux; Francisco Valenti, former Vice-President of IMPSA. The number changes every hour as new people are discovered as involved or because some remain uncaptured.
The notebooks document the facts between 2005 and 2015. They cover the last two years of Nestor Kirchner’s presidency and all the years in both governments of his wife. It even includes a lapse with no notes by 2010 when the death of Kirchner occurred. The operations stopped for a little while and Centeno desisted continuing until 2013 when he started again.
The money amounts of these operations rise to more than U$S 160 million. It is suspected to come as a return from several businessmen for the arbitrary choosing in public work tenders at a national scale.
It is important to add that this is not the first case involving Kirchner family in corruption investigations but it is the mostly documented. If the proof is accepted as evidence it may drive Cristina Fernandez to jail. The judge has even asked the senate to remove the parliamentary benefit that excludes her of being prosecuted for being a national senator for the Province of Buenos Aires.
The government factions of both legislative chambers are negotiating to establish a special session to discuss it. Several different political currents in PJ Party, which Cristina Fernandez was once part of, must decide if they will keep supporting her or if they will use their majority to retire her legislative benefits.
Other cases that involve Cristina Fernandez are: the case of “future dollar” where she is investigated for peculation on a business with monetary prices with a big loss on state finances; the case of “Los Sauces” real state, where she is suspected of making business with Cristóbal López and Lázaro Báez, two businessmen with a tremendous patrimonial growth during her government; the case of a series of hotels of her property suspected of being used for money laundry with the same actors; and perhaps the worst, not economic but politically speaking, is the case of concealment of the suspects of the terrorist attack to AMIA in 1994 by negotiating a referendum with Iran.
However any of those cases end Cristina Fernandez still has much to explain. To start, she must be clear about how her patrimony was increased at a rate of 3540% in eight years, a growth of 26 thousand pesos per day that does not seem at all legal.
In his political column, journalist Carlos Pagni mentions three rules Sergio Moro, Brazilian judge who performed in Lava Jato case, designed before starting his historical work.
The first one was to apprehend the businessmen first, by concluding they have less possibilities to influence courts and they would presumably act only for their own benefit. The second one was to explode benefits of those to testify for a reduction on jail time. Argentina has a regretful law since 2016, which only benefits the first suspect to break silence and according to the importance of the information. It could help to develop a chain of disloyalties among the imprisoned that may cause demolishing testimonies since Centeno and other two businessmen have already requested testifying under this figure. Angelo Calcaterra, Mauricio Macri’s cousin and owner of IECSA, one of the investigated companies, has decided to confess spontaneously under this figure though he wasn’t prosecuted yet.
The third rule was to leak information into the press on small amounts to keep the public opinion interested and eager for answers. This rule was kept with the exception of the small amounts specification. The full scanned notebooks are online on La Nación website for general public.
Finally, it also adds the importance of a firm Justice in every level. There is the point where Argentina still has to step forward and prove itself.
Justice Minister German Garavano recently declared something that was widely discussed but was finally proven accurate. Over a hundred criminal cases only one criminal does have a sentence. It has to be explained that many people who are nowadays in prison, and in some cases have been for some years, have no firm convictions due to the extreme slowness of Argentinian justice in all it’s levels of appealing.
Some convictions tend to last even years in every appealing stance and end up lasting more than a decade. Some crimes often prescribe because of the lapse of time it has passed from the crime to the investigation.
A particular negative precedent of a similar case is Carlos Menem’s, former president in the nineties. He has a non-firm sentence for weapon traffic for years now and he has been indefinitely reelected as senator for his province, acquiring the same benefit Cristina Fernandez has now.
On the other hand, last year the mentioned Julio De Vido was taken that benefit away from the vote of the chamber, presenting a suitable precedent for this case. The senate has to make a choice if it acts towards Justice or if it becomes a true den for famous criminals. Impunity in Argentina has remained historically. That could end in this particular case.
The case also has a special situation involving a member of President Macri’s family. The possible incarceration of his cousin Angelo Calcaterra, owner of IECSA back in those days, could finally break the common notion that Argentinian Justice brings impunity to those in the government.