Photo via TN

Federal Judge Julián Ercolini indicted former President Cristina Fernández and her children, Máximo – who is also a national deputy for the Frente Para la Victoria – and Florencia in the so-called “Hotesur” case yesterday. Ercolini determined there is enough evidence to conclude they took part in a money laundering scheme where they used the family hotel – called Alto Calafate – as a front to launder previously embezzled assets during Fernández’s tenure as president.

Ercolini also indicted the following – there were others, but these are the most-high profile involved – aside from the former president and her children:

  • Lázaro Báez: Former businessman associated with the Kirchners, he stands accused of paying kickbacks by having his companies rent hotel rooms that would not be used;
  • Lázaro Báez’s son Martín;
  • Víctor Manzanares: Accountant for the Kirchner family. He revealed to investigators in December last year that he amended the books for the Hotesur business, changing the figures in the company’s financial account with whiteout upon request from the former President. He however denied that the changes were “malicious”;
  • Osvaldo “Bochi” Sanfelice: Long-time employee of the Kirchners. He was member of Hotesur’s board and Margarita Stolbizer, former Deputy and serial investigator of Kirchner’s alleged shady businesses, has accused him of being their front-man;
  • Romina Mercado: Cristina Kirchner’s niece. She was also a member of Hotesur’s board.

Ercolini ordered Hotesur be placed under a trusteeship in March. Back then, he said that Hotesur “was allegedly one of the companies through which the Kirchner family periodically received money obtained by defrauding the national state.”

The experts in the case demonstrated how several of Báez’s companies transferred at least AR $68.2 million to another of his businesses, called Valle Mitre Inc. From that company’s account, Báez transferred around AR $6 million per year to accounts belonging to Hotesur — which manages Alto Calafate — between 2009 and 2013. The contract was abruptly terminated in 2013 when the previously unknown relationship between Báez and the Kirchner family was uncovered by the media.

Lázaro Báez. Photo via Cronista
Lázaro Báez. Photo via Cronista

A previous probe also revealed that Báez’s payments to Hotesur accounted for 50 percent of the Alto Calafate hotel’s billing. With this information, the prosecutor will try to prove that the money paid by Báez to rent the hotel’s rooms and ballrooms for his companies’ staff had an ulterior motive: providing kickbacks for the overinflated public work contracts his flagship company, Austral Construcciones, was granted by the Kirchner administration during their time in office.

Following this premise, then, the Alto Calafate hotel would be the front used by the former president to launder the money she embezzled by assigning Báez almost all public work contracts in the Santa Cruz province.

This method is one of the ways in which the former president allegedly defrauded the state during her time in office. Different prosecutors are investigating other alleged schemes, and two of them – Juan Carlos Mahiques and Gerardo Pollicita – have requested all similar cases be united in a so-called “mega case,” given they would all be connected.

The prosecutors allege that members of the Kirchner administration appointed people to several government positions which managed public works contracts that were later given to associates in the public sector. The ones with the highest profile are Báez and former media and oil mogul Cristóbal López. Both of them are currently under pre-trial arrest: the former since April 2016, while the latter was detained for the first time late last year, after being indicted for allegedly defrauding the state for AR $8 billion.

In fact, both Báez and López – as well as the former president – have also been indicted in a case investigating a scheme with similar M.O., called “Los Sauces.” The only difference with Hotesur is the fact that the alleged front is the former President’s company dedicated to renting real estate.

This is the fifth indictment for the former President. She also stands accused in the cases known as “Futures Dollar,” “Los Sauces,” the Iran cover-up case, and the one investigated by Pollicita and Mahiques.