The government has just scored a victory in the judicial landscape. Federal Court of Appeals judge Eduardo Farah, who has been heavily criticized by the Macri administration, requested to be transferred from Comodoro Py to a Federal Financial Criminal Court in Buenos Aires City.
Farah currently holds one of the most important judicial posts in the country: Comodoro Py’s courts rule over the most high-profile cases in the country, as the activities of the federal government’s officials fall under their jurisdiction. And considering he is an Appeals Court judge, he issues key votes at the time of confirming or dismissing rulings from first instance courts.
The judge was under government scrutiny as a result of different rulings: he voted in favor of dismissing the accusation made by late Prosecutor Alberto Nisman against former President Cristina Kirchner in the Iran cover up case, and indicted – and later acquitted – President Mauricio Macri when he was Mayor of Buenos Aires City in a case where he had been accused of illegal wiretapping.
But tensions reached a boiling point last month, after Farah, along with Judge Eduardo Ballestero, also under government scrutiny, issued a controversial ruling involving media and business tycoon Cristóbal López, who rose to public notoriety during the Kirchner administrations.
López had initially been accused of defrauding the state for AR $8 billion – AR $17 billion if we take into account the interests that piled up since he was accused – by withholding taxes his gas stations collected on behalf of the state every time someone pumped fuel. However, the ruling determined López – as well as his business partner Fabián de Sousa – had to be judged for alleged tax evasion, a much lighter charge that wouldn’t put him behind bars and would allow him to enter a moratorium with the AFIP tax collecting agency to pay his debt.
Practically the entire government came out to criticize the judges. “[The ruling] outraged me – same as many other Argentines. We will appeal through the AFIP [tax collecting agency],” said President Mauricio Macri in an interview with Luis Majul. “He charged a tax on the AFIP’s behalf, but instead of transferring that money to the agency he used it to buy other things. That is a criminal action, absolutely,” he added.
Not only was the ruling controversial, but how Judge Farah got to rule over it as well. The court that had the case was comprised of two judges, Ballestero and Leopoldo Bruglia. Since Ballestero voted in favor of the mentioned argument and Bruglia against, they needed a third judge to break the tie. And Farah was chosen.
Ballestero’s argument was that Farah was investigating another case that was connected with the one in question. However, the Supreme Court ordered on March 22 it be investigated if the conformation of that court was irregular.
In this context, Farah requested the Council of Magistrates to be transferred. And the Council anticipated it would approve the request. Nonetheless, the government’s representative at the council, Juan Bautista Mahiques, said this does not mean he will stop being investigated.
Mahiques went on to say that the Appeals Court has not come up with a candidate to replace Farah yet, but onec they do, they will nominate him or her and the Council will decide whether to accept. Regardless of who it is, they will surely be someone who the government likes better than Farah.