Almost two months after getting caught trying to hide roughly US $9 million in a convent that turned out not to be a convent, helped by nuns who turned out not to be nuns, José López, the former Kirchnerite Public Works Secretary, yesterday finally spoke out and provided his own version of events.
He had previously been called to testify but refused to do so and was ultimately exempt for medical reasons.
López testified before Federal Judge Daniel Rafecas and Prosecutor Federico for over three hours. He first recalled how the events unfolded and then answered several questions. Regarding the US $9 million, he said the money belonged to “politics” and that neither the non-nuns nor his wife knew about its existence, but refused to answer further questions about it.
According to his testimony, what went through López’s head during the days prior to his arrest is almost as incredible as the story itself: voices in his head, hallucinations, extreme paranoia, suicidal thoughts, the story’s got it all. Here are the highlights of his testimony:
“First and foremost I want to say I was looking forward to appearing before you right now. Not like the first time, when I was out of my mind, because no one in his right mind would have picked the lawyer I allegedly chose.”
López was making reference to the fact that he was initially represented by Fernanda Herrera, a defense attorney known as “the hot lawyer,” primarily due to her side careers as a model and a cumbia singer. Although the media’s portrayal of Herrera was clearly sexist — various outlets were quick to publish numerous photos of her in various states of undress alongside descriptions that include “hot lawyer” and “shameless” poser — Herrera wasn’t averse to the publicity she got from representing López.
Herrera does practice law, but has frequently said that performing was always her “unrealized” vocation. In fact, she accepted an invitation to be a part of Bailando por un sueño, the Argentine version of Dancing with the Stars, when her public notoriety peaked. Herrera finally resigned as López’s lawyer in July, arguing she felt “a sensation of sexual harassment” from her client. Moving on.
López said the story began in May this year, “when in Montevideo, Uruguay, during a Mercosur [trade bloc] Parliament session [known as Parlasur: López was a deputy for the Victory Front (FpV) until the scandal unfolded. He officially resigned from his post last week], parliamentary Alejandro Karlem told me, ‘You, I and [Agustín] Rossi are being investigated. I was told by sources from the intelligence agency.’ I took a mental note of what he had told me but didn’t tell my wife because she was studying for her last exam in law school.”
He went on to say that several strange occurrences with his email account — which he used to receive details from an online masters degree he was doing in the University of Salamanca, Spain — and his phone, were the second signs that something strange was going on:
“I vas very excited and obsessed with my masters. It was an unfulfilled dream for me. On June 9, I was in my house downloading the course work on Dropbox. However, my account ran out of storage room. When I entered my credit card data to buy more, the system blocked and a sign that said ‘block email firstname.lastname@example.org’ showed up. I got scared, because I was afraid I had lost all the information I had stored.”
“On June 10, I entered University of Salamanca’s website from my cellphone to check the grades, but the window closed down abruptly. It was like a ‘spark,’ and I got very concerned, a bit about the masters and a bit because I thought either them, or Google, could think I was trying to hack into the system.”
“The next day I got an email from the professor, but when I was about to reply, words started to mix, being spelled backwards, translating to English. A series of incoherent things that barely allowed me to formulate two or three sentences. I was worried about that.”
“The next day, I got an incoherent message on Whatsapp that said, ‘What’s up, lumberjack.’ It was from my friend, ‘the mole’ Devoto, who always texted me. The same happened with the Whatsapp group I have with other Parlasur deputies. Then a message showed up: ‘This is the day, you won’t be able to get away from Google.’ I was even more worried.”
“When I left my house, I saw a lot of people working outside my house in the district of Tigre, around 50 people. That’s not normal al on my street,” continued López, who went on to say that he then made his way to the office he has in the neighborhood of Recoleta, where his wife was taking English lessons. According to López, strange things kept happening.
“When I got to the parking lot I was very anxious. When I got out of the car I had a briefcase with my laptop in it so I could download the course work for the masters. I remember very clearly a couple, dressed casually: t-shirt, jeans and jacket, that started walking behind me saying: ‘What could he have in that briefcase? Drugs? US dollars? We want that briefcase.” That happened as I walked the 20 meters separating the parking lot from the office.”
Apparently, this last scene was the straw that broke the camel’s back in regards to López’s mental health, as he recalled that during the same night, he “turned on the TV and started hearing mocking voices, incoherent sentences”: “My wife told me I had to rest, that I was delusional. I asked her if she wasn’t hearing the same things, and she kept telling me that I had to rest. I told her the only place where I could find peace of mind was the convent, so she put me in touch with its Mother Superior, Alba,” said López.
However, he didn’t decide to go to the convent then: “I was very anxious, I went up to the bedroom, with the clear intention of getting my handgun. I didn’t find it at the moment, so I remembered about the [assault rifle] and took it. When I went downstairs with it my wife got scared and left,” he continued. This seemed to be another breaking point for López, who told the judge he couldn’t exactly remember what happened then because he kept “mixing voices and images.”
“I heard a male voice telling me I was going to get killed. I dropped the carbine and yelled [to no one] ‘I’m not [late Prosecutor] Nisman, I’m not going to commit suicide.’ I went up the bedroom and saw a ‘blurry thing.’ I thought they [doesn’t clarify who] wanted to put me to sleep so I went to the backyard and saw next to me two or three stains that resembled blood.”
“I went to the shed, got a staircase and entered that place no one knows about. I grabbed the bags [filled with roughly US $9 million]. I got to the car and heard a voice saying, ‘What are you going to hunt, birds?’.”
“When I left I didn’t have a clear destiny, but I saw police cars every 200 meters. There were also cars that came near me and then sped up, as if they were doing it to upset me. I want to clarify that I hadn’t taken anything. Not drugs, alcohol or pills. I took the weapon, I guess, to defend myself from what I was expecting to face. I don’t know what or who that was. When I went to get the [handgun], I intended to kill myself.”
“I kept driving around until I found the paved road that leads straight to the convent. I followed it. I rang several times but no one answered. Suddenly, I get the bags and throw them to the other side of the convent.”
“When I get to the door I see a pickup truck passing by with four or six people, one of them filming or pretending to be filming. One of them said “There he is, there he is!”
“At that moment one of the [non] sisters opened the door and I got in. I obviously didn’t tell them about the bags, I didn’t know them. They didn’t know what was in them. Alba told me to stay but I said that I had to go (…) My wife either. I always kept her away from my work and political work.”
“What I will say regarding that money is that it didn’t belong to me, it belonged to politics. I will provide all the details when I have the necessary physical and psychological strength,” López added.
The rest is known history: police got to the non-convent after getting tipped by a guy called Jesus, López tried to bribe them, couldn’t, was arrested, had a nervous breakdown and started banging his head against a wall when he was about to testify before a judge, hired a lawyer called the “hot lawyer” and remained under strict vigilance in the psychiatric wing of Ezeiza prison hospital, waiting for a trial to determine whether he is guilty of unlawful enrichment.