The head of the Customs Agency (DGA), Juan José Gómez Centurión, was today reinstated in his post after a two-month suspension as a result of an anonymous accusation linking him to corruption, put forward by Security Minister Patricia Bullrich. Centurión returned to his post after Federal Judge Ariel Lijo, who was investigating the case, determined he hadn’t found any evidence linking him to a contraband group, as the accusation claimed.
The most incriminating proof against Centurión came from a series of recordings in which can allegedly be heard requesting bribes from business executives in exchange for greenlighting imports. However, the reliability of the audios were put in doubt from day one and several journalists with access to the alleged evidence in the case said they had been clearly edited in order to incriminate him.
When asked about this in an interview today, Centurión conceded he believes “there could have been a more exhaustive analysis of the audios,” but clarified he was saying that after knowing how the events unfolded, “before the whole thing blew up in the media and with the president’s promise to combat corruption.”
Even as Centurión insisted he understood the situation and would have done the same should he had been in their place, his words do raise questions about the government’s actions.
Should the administration have rushed to take measures against Centurión even if it did not have conclusive proof? Did the government go overboard in its claim to be fighting corruption in the administration?
Photo via Politica Argentina
Centurión’s case was particularly notable because it involved the first accusation from one government official to another. And it wasn’t against any old official. Centurión had long been touted as a prime example of how the new government was cleaning up corruption in the different Customs’ agencies: one of the most notoriously opaque corners of the state that many believe is an cash cow for corrupt intelligence agents.
In fact, Centurión claimed since the beginning that the accusations were the product of an elaborate (or not so much, considering the poor quality of the editing) plot by former intelligence officers. And he stuck by his truth again in today’s interview: “I believe it was an operation to get me ousted,” he said.
Officials should have suspected there was at least some theoretical validity to his theory considering the accusations against Centurión came mere days after he, along with the country’s tax collection agency (AFIP), made an explosive claim that the much-maligned DJAI system was used to funnel US $14.5 billion overseas illegally as part of a vast corruption network.
During the two months of his suspension, Centurión’s case was treated as if it was a ’90s cop movie in which the main character discovers a corruption rink inside the agency but his dirty colleagues manage to get him fired to prevent him from revealing it to the public. And, just like in the movies, Centurión kept on working on his own to bust the bad guys.
In this particular case, he tipped off authorities about the presence of at least 10 barrels of pseudoephedrine, which is a key ingredient to manufacture a few types of legal drugs as well as methamphetamine, at the Ezeiza airport.
Bullrich was quick to dismiss Centurión’s claims as hogwash, saying he should be “reprimanded” because he “already knew about it in May, but didn’t file charges [or] alert the proper authorities.”
Regardless of the tension with Bullrich, Centurión received the support of several key members of the Cambiemos coalition, including the governor of the Buenos Aires province, María Eugenia Vidal and national lawmaker Elisa Carrió, who called him an “honest man who fights against the mafias.”
Macri always made it clear he would reinstate Centurión to his post if the judiciary didn’t find proof of corruption. He stuck to his word. But this doesn’t mean his concerns are over. Cleaning the corruption that appears to be at every corner of the agency he is now back to leading will remain a big challenge.