Following in Milagro Sala’s footsteps, businessman and prominent Kirchnerite Lázaro Báez will also be approaching the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to accuse the Argentine State of violating his rights and detaining him “illegitimately” since his arrest in April.
But as many observers have pointed out, there’s one glaring difference between his situation and Sala’s: no one is really pushing for his freedom.
To refresh our memories: for months now, Báez has been embroiled in a huge corruption scandal, popularly known as the “K [Kirchnerite] Money Trail”, based on a 2013 exposé of his alleged prolific money laundering practices by journalist and TV personality Jorge Lanata on his show Periodismo Para Todos (PPT).
In short, the case centers on the practices of the businessman’s construction company, Austral Construction, which received a huge number of contracts during former President Néstor Kirchner’s presidency. He has been accused of enabling money laundering with public infrastructure funds, setting up ghost companies in Argentina and in tax havens like Panama, and he was arrested earlier this year, in April.
Now Báez is planning to present an appeal to the IACHR in Washington, where the Commission is based. Through two of his lawyers, Maximiliano Rusconi and Alberto Bovino, he will be asking for an inquiry into his detention, which he reportedly considers “unjust” and “arbitrary”, and will demand that the Argentine State releases him immediately. His imprisonment was based on a “risk of flight”, which the defence claims is not a factor; arguing that Báez’s freedom would not hinder the investigation, nor would it help to conceal or destroy compromising evidence.
According to La Nación, the businessman’s petition focuses on Federal Judge Sebastián Casanello, who is responsible for his months of detention, as well as public prosecutor Guillermo Marijuan, among others. But that is just the surface – the real target is, of course, the Government.
Báez’s lawyers are launching a petition against “the Argentine State for the violation of several rights guaranteed in the American Convention on Human Rights,” according to the document they issued yesterday.
This is not the first time Báez has tried to get the IACHR involved in his case, though. Two months ago he asked Casanello to allow the organisation to oversee proceedings but, a couple of weeks later, the judge rejected his claims that the external supervision would bring “credibility and legitimacy to the process” at times when he considered the judge and prosecutor “under constant pressure.”
But now, Báez has a precedent to work with: Milagro Sala. Need a quick refresh? A controversial social leader, Sala was imprisoned in January purportedly on fraud and extortion charges but which have yet to be proven. She is accused of using money the State allocated her organisation, Tupac Amaru, to run a political patronage system in the province of Jujuy.
Since her arrest, many organisations and prominent personalities from Argentina and elsewhere have argued that she is being unlawfully detained and have demanded her release. Many have gone as far as to label her as the country’s “first political prisoner.” The Organization of American States’ Secretary General, Luis Almagro, and Canadian Minister Justin Trudeau are among those who have challenged Sala’s detention.
It’s surely no coincidence, therefore, that Báez’s decision to approach the IACHR comes just days after the Commission issued a statement urging for a “prompt response” to the United Nations Working Group’s demand for Sala’s “immediate release”.
Báez appears to be rooting for an identical statement to the one that the Commission issued for the social leader, in which they reminded the Argentine State that preventive detention should only be used in exceptional cases, should “only be extended for a reasonable period and cannot be used as a punitive measure.”
The disparity between the two cases that Báez is perhaps neglecting to notice, however, is that Sala has a heap of national, and even international, support on her side whereas no one seems to be crying about his incarceration.