No less than 49 business leaders and former public officials have been summoned by a judge as defendants for questioning in relation to graft accusations over the tunneling of the Sarmiento train line, including former Planning minister Julio de Vido and President Mauricio Macri’s cousin Angel Calcaterra.
Prosecutors suspect that bribes were paid by Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht as part of the competition process to win the contract for multi billion dollar work to take the Sarmiento train line below ground. Among the defendants is Marcelo Odebrecht, the former head of the construction company that has already served time in Brazil on graft charges inked to the Lava Jato scandal, and other Odebrecht executives.
On the list signed off on by Federal Judge Marcelo Martínez de Giorgi are former officials during the Kirchner administrations like Roberto Baratta, José López (infamous for attempting to hide bags of cash), former Transport secretaries Ricardo Jaime and Juan Pablo Schiavi (both in jail), and Manuel Vázquez (also in jail). De Vido will be the first to appear before the judge, on June 6th, assuming that he does not postpone his testimony.
Once the public officials have given testimony next up will be Calcaterra, in relation to his connection to the IECSA construction company that was part of the consortium that was awarded the contract during the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration. Construction is now underway after multiple delays and Odebrecht has sold its stake in the project.
Executives with Odebrecht, Ghella, and Comsa – the other members of the consortium – have also been been served summons. Calcaterra, who has head of IECSA at the time but has since sold his stake, will be the first to appear before the judge – on August 15th.
Last to be questioned will be Jorge “Corcho” Rodríguez, accused of being the go-between public officials and Odebrecht. Rodriguez is not scheduled to appear before the judge until mid-October. Dates have not been set for the Brazilian defendants, and requests for their questioning will have to be sent to Brazil.
At the crux of the investigation are payments made to public officials that investigators have found to be suspicious and a means to guarantee the contract for the Sarmiento project. Evidence compiled by the prosecutors and seen by the judge allowed him to conclude that “they payments that have been identified as going to the investigated public officials originated directly or indirectly from the businesses that were in the consortium that won the contract” for the tunneling.
The companies directed funds both to CAESA, a company held by Manuel Vázquez, a front man for Jaime, while Odebrecht’s “Structured Operations Division” allegedly sent bribes to offshore accounts belonging to offshore companies. That Division was been linked to the to having paid US $35 million in bribes to Argentine officials in exchange for being awarded state contracts between 2007 and 2014.
IECSA was accused of sending US$223,694.68 CAESA for “suspected phony consulting services” from 2005 to 2009, and COMSA another US $263,097.56
As such, Martínez de Giorgi also found that there were irregularities in the process to award the contract that he summarized as the “the first example of a series of legal simulations that that demonstrate the breaking down of the normal function of a public administration.” Those irregularities, the judge has reason to believe, took place because of the payments that were being directed toward public officials.
The Sarmiento investigation to other Odebrecht-linked cases in Argentina, such as investigation into a gas pipeline contract or a water treatment plant.