Víctor Manzanares, the Kirchner family’s accountant, was arrested yesterday in the Santa Cruz Province, accused by Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio of obstructing justice in the context of the “Los Sauces” case. How? Bonadio argued that Manzanares was the mastermind behind an accounting maneuver destined to get the company’s income to end in bank accounts that could be accessed by Máximo and Florencia Kirchner, instead of going to the company’s accounts, as it should have.
Why would he want to do that? Because the judge ordered the company’s books and accounts be administered by Court appointed officials while the investigation is open, to prevent the accused parties of potentially siphoning the money somewhere else and purportedly bankrupt “Los Sauces,” in case they are found guilty and have to pay an important compensation.
Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was indicted in the case, as were her children Máximo and Florencia.
According to La Nación, Bonadio accessed evidence showing that Manzanares asked people renting the properties owned by the real estate company to deposit their respective rent money in an account owned by Máximo Kirchner’s business partner, Carlos Sancho, in an attempt to prevent the funds from being seized by the officials.
“We celebrate Bonadio’s decision and believe that it’s a necessary step to get the Kirchners to start respecting the court’s decisions, or more than one of them will end up just like Manzanares,” told La Nación Silvia Martínez, the lawyer representing National Deputy Margarita Stolbizer, behind the charges.
But even though the events themselves are relevant for the case, the arrest is all the more significant for the question that it brings with it: could the former president be put behind bars during the rest of the investigation if Bonadio concludes she also played a role in what he considers to be an obstruction of justice?
The judge himself talked this morning about the possibility of Fernández being the one who ordered the maneuver and didn’t rule out having her follow in Manzanares’ steps if confirmed. “I can’t predict the future, but let’s say that if that hypothesis ends up being true, the corresponding procedural decisions will be made, have no doubt,” he said in an interview with Radio Mitre.
However, he clarified that, at least for now, the evidence doesn’t incriminate the former president: “I don’t know who gave the order, what I have is a memo signed by Manzanares, instructing tenants to deposit the rent money,” he explained.
Through his lawyer, Manzanares already formally requested to be released from prison. “For someone to be imprisoned, there needs to be either an interference of the investigation or the judge needs to conclude that the accused might evade justice. That’s not the case with Manzanares. He has always obeyed the law. Last year he was on the receiving end of three police raids and always collaborated,” said Carlos Beraldi, his lawyer.
“I presented a request to get him out that has to be decided on today; if they grant it, good; if not, I’ll appeal,” he added.
As mentioned, the former president has been indicted for unlawful association, incompatible negotiations with public office and money laundering. Bonadio also ruled to have her assets seized for AR $130 million and prevented her from leaving the country until her legal situation in the case is figured out.
The former president’s children Máximo and Florencia Kirchner, and businessmen Lázaro Báez and Cristóbal López, as well as other people who were involved in the crimes allegedly committed, were also indicted for unlawful association and prevented from leaving the country. Manzanares is the first one to be arrested.
In his ruling, Bonadio ruled that there was enough evidence to conclude that Los Sauces, the real estate company owned by the former President and her children, actually served as a front to launder public funds that had been previously embezzled by the assignment of over-inflated state contracts to the businessmen.
The money Baez and Lopez paid in renting properties is thought to be a kickback for the influence CFK used while in office to push for State contracts to be given to the two business men. The fact that the properties rented by the businessmen made up more than 80 percent of the company’s income helped the judge to get to this conclusion.
The former president, as well as the other accused on their ends, appealed Bonadio’s decision. A Federal Appeals court will have to decide whether to confirm his ruling. If this is the case, the investigation would be a few steps away from trial, where a tribunal would decide the fate of those implicated in the wrong doing.