Photo via Mendoza Opina

An Appeals Court dropped a political bombshell close to noon today after it ordered that the former Planning Minister during the three Kirchner administrations, Julio De Vido, be stripped from his parliamentary immunity and detained, as it considered that he could interfere with the investigation against him in the so-called Río Turbio case, in which he has been accused of defrauding the state.

However, this doesn’t mean that De Vido will be put behind bars within the next hours. Since he has the aforementioned immunity, two thirds of his peers in both of Congress; chambers would have to vote in favor of stripping him from it. The Macri administration tried to remove De Vido from the Lower House for this very reason, but didn’t get enough votes.

However, there’s a difference between this situation and the previous one. Last July, the government’s representatives in Congress proposed to remove him for “moral inability.” This caused for several lawmakers to oppose the initiative, arguing that a court should determine that, because otherwise they would be declaring him guilty before learning the actual verdict. Although this is not a sentence against De Vido, this ruling gives Cambiemos legal basis – and therefore a much stronger stance – to charge against the former minister again.

The Argentine criminal codes determines that suspects of a crime can be preemptively arrested for two different reasons: if there’s a real possibility that the suspect will try to flee justice and avoid his or her potential arrest; and if the court determines the suspect could interfere with the investigation outside prison – by tampering witnesses, for example.

Same as with all other former Kirchnerite officials and associates who have been imprisoned in the last year and a half – Lázaro Báez, José López, for example – the court went for the latter. “His incarceration is the only viable alternative to guarantee the success of this investigation, argued one of the court’s members, Martín Izurzún.

What’s the Río Turbio Case?

De Vido has been formally accused of embezzling more than AR$ 260 from a project to revamp a massive coal mine and build an electric grid and a train in the city of Río Turbio, in the Santa Cruz Province. However, the sum could be much bigger. Between 2005 and 2015, the state destined AR$ 26 billion to the project, but the train doesn’t work and the mine, which should have been reactivated and its power used to feed the greed produced as much coal as it did in 1951.

“The mining complex had 70 percent fewer galleries than initially projected” and “produces 85 percent less than established. However, it has 233 percent more staff than it should,” argued Prosecutor Carlos Stornelli to substantiate his accusation.

Cristina Kirchner Reacts to the News

Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was giving a live interview at TV channel Telefé when the news broke. Predictably, her interviewer, Gerardo Rozín, asked her for her opinion. Same as she always has in these situations, Fernández assured that the decision is part of the judicial persecution she and her former officials suffer at the hands of the Macri administration, aided by the Judicial branch.

“Today is Loyalty Day [the day that commemorates the creation of Peronism]. [The Federal Courthouses of] Comorodo Py are having today another loyalty day [to president Macri] and are working around the clock. It’s part of the electoral agenda. Today, Cambiemos is holding their main campaign rally, this one,” she added.

The former President went on to to say that “they started campaigning when [Federal Judge Claudio] Bonadio called me to testify regarding the Memorandum of Understanding to clarify the 1994 AMIA [Jewish Center attack].”

“I’m not minimizing anything. But this isn’t even good for them because I don’t think people will think it’s a coincidence that two days or two weeks from the elections the opposition’s main candidate is called to testify,” she argued.

She finished by saying that “De Vido will have to explain himself to the court.” “I’m not defending anyone, just saying that the Judicial Branch is being used as a task force by the current government.”

We’ll see who Congress agrees with.