An audit into public works completed under former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has found that Austral Constructions — the company owned by Lázaro Báez, the businessman at the center of a purported money laundering scheme implicating members of the previous Kirchner administration — was the main constructor of highways during Cristina’s eight years in the Casa Rosada. The audit was carried out as part of investigations into a number of purported money laundering schemes, including the Lázaro Báez Case (popularly known as the “K [Kirchnerite] Money Trail” Case).
According to the audit, Austral Constructions received US $2.2 billion in the last eight years and was always at the top of the list of 30 companies hired by the Highway Administration. It was also the only one to which the State did not owe any money.
In a telephone interview on Sunday, Cristina said that an audit was conducted was in order to, “clear up what actually happened and [discern] whether or not there was overpricing” in the distribution of public works during her administrations. She also stated in the same interview that, “I am politically persecuted. It’s not just a sensation. It’s clear and obvious.”
Why is an audit into public works significant? Public works have become the central focus of a plethora of corruption cases linked to the previous administration — former Planning Minister Julio de Vido and former Planning Secretary José López are high-profile examples of former public officials with corruption charges.
“Our charges are not only against Báez […] but against many public officials that participated in this process. This cannot be done by one person alone, there is a structure,” said Iguacel in an interview with Radio Nacional.
As the owner of Austral Constructions, Báez would allegedly receive more money than necessary for public construction work: that money would then be reinserted into the market in order to be put into banks overseas such as Switzerland. This makes for a particular money laundering case because he allegedly did not receive “dirty” money, but government contracts.
The head of the Argentine Highway Administration, Javier Iguacel, said that the government has already carried out “several audits” on public works during Cristina’s administrations, “and there was, on average, a 50 percent overpricing rate.” In addition, he cited various audits carried out by several provinces, such as Santa Cruz, which determined that Báez won 51 out of 83 public tenders carried out by Cristina’s government.
Various media outlets are covering this as a blow to Cristina: however, no independent study has been carried out in order to discern whether or not there was overpricing during her administrations.