Treasury Minister Nicolás Dujovne definitely did not have the most auspicious April. Aside from facing a delicate situation on the economic landscape – with inflation that won’t recede and the depreciation of the dollar from last week – certain personal activities as a private citizen prior to taking office, and later as a public official reported by the media this month, have placed him on the receiving end of widespread criticism.
In mid-April, Noticias magazine reported that a few weeks before being appointed to his current post, Dujovne entered the tax amnesty granted by the government, and whitewashed AR $20 million through a company called Florentine Global. And this weekend, Perfil journalist Liliana Franco reported a series of lavish expenses incurred by Dujovne and his chief of staff Ariel Sigal during official activities, for which they had the state foot the bill.
Among the most relevant are four private flights costing hundreds of thousands of pesos; the use of public funds to organize a reception at Dujovne’s home for IMF Director Christine Lagarde during her visit to the country; and four-figure dinners for Sigal and other ministry officials on visits to Washington, as well as a private driver for Sigal on at least one of those trips. Oh, and there is also a ministry document ordering Chocoarroz snacks.
According to the documents Franco got a hold of, Dujovne travelled on May 10 of last year to La Rioja to partake in a meeting with provincial officials on a private flight, something that cost the state US $10,490. On June 21, 2017, he travelled to the capital city of Misiones, Posadas, on a private plane from Sapsa Líneas Aéreas company, a trip for which the state was charged AR $172,725. He also flew on private planes to Mar del Plata for US $6,200 and Salta for US $15,000. The dates of those flights were not specified.
As mentioned, the minister also used public funds to organize a lunch in his house to honor IMF Director Christine Lagarde during her visit to Argentina in early March. The event had 10 guests and the catering service cost AR $31,100, or AR $3,100 a head.
When asked by media, ministry officials assured that Dujovne had to take the private flights because he had no other option. Moreover, they highlighted that in the year and a half since he took office, the minister has taken more than 30 flights, both domestic and international, and bar those cases he always flew commercial, in accordance to the law.
“Only in exceptional cases can the authority take those kind of flights. The decision must have basis and the cheapest and quickest way must be found. Of all flights he had to take due to his activity as a minister, he only had to apply said exception twice, and on domestic flights. This exception is resorted to as a result of emergencies and schedule issues,” added sources consulted by Clarín, which went on to clarify they always chose the cheapest of three options found.
As for the reception for Lagarde, they said it was the first time a IMF director came to the country “in 15 years,” and “it is customary for ministers to invite them to their homes in those occasions.” “It is done all over the world,” they added.
But, as mentioned, Dujovne is not the only ministry official under the spotlight. In the context of a visit to Washington for a meeting with IMF officials, Chief of Staff Ariel Sigal had a “work lunch,” with fellow ministry officials, for which they spent US $5,389 of taxpayer money. In a posterior trip to the American capital, Sigal went to the same restaurant, also with public officials, and had the state spend US $2,419. No officials defended these expenses.
Representatives of the opposition came out to criticize Dujovne for the expenses, with the leader of the Frente Para la Victoria (FpV) caucus in the Lower House Agustín Rossi saying the party will summon him to Congress to answer questions.
El accionar de Nicolás Dujovne es un claro caso de malversación de fondos públicos. El miércoles desde el Bloque FPV-PJ presentaremos el pedido de interpelación para que el Ministro de explicaciones en el Congreso Nacional.
— Agustin Rossi (@RossiAgustinOk) May 1, 2018
“Dujovne’s actions are a clear case of embezzlement. On Wednesday, the FpV-PJ caucus will introduce a request to have the minister explain himself before Congress,” reads Rossi’s tweet.
As mentioned, Noticias magazine reported in mid-April that a few weeks before being appointed, Dujovne entered the tax amnesty granted by the Macri administration, and whitewashed AR $20 million through a company called Florentine Global.
Although this is technically legal, and the names of the people who disclosed their assets are protected by fiscal secrecy, his name was revealed and questions regarding whether it is ethical to have a Treasury Minister who could have evaded taxes quickly ensued.
Should the tax amnesty have not existed, and Dujovne’s discovered, he could have been sentenced to a minimum of two years in prison and a maximum of five, in accordance with article 1 of the country’s tax crime law. However, ministry spokespeople told different news sites that it does not correspond to talk about the issue because it is under fiscal secrecy and that, in any case, he did not commit any crimes.
Opposition representatives, in contrast, focused more on the ethical aspect. Agustín Rossi also took the lead in this case and said it is “yet another scandal in the aspect of public ethics.” “Practically the entire Cabinet has ties to offshore accounts and overseas accounts, and now we learn the Treasury Minister evaded taxes and whitewashed. In other words, he cheated on the country,” he added.