Cabinet Chef Marcos Peña. (Photo via Noticias Argentinas)

Gustavo Arribas, the head of the country’s Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI), has received the backing of Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña after being been named by the Brazilian Federal Police as having received US $850,000 that they suspect are linked to an international money-laundering scheme.

Arribas has responded with a written statement denying the accusations.

With Brazil still rocking from the implications of the Lava Jato, officials have started another investigation named Operation Discard (Operação Descarte), itself an offshoot of the Lava Jato. Investigators are looking into a scheme in which a garbage collection company operating in Sao Paulo since 2011 was allegedly receiving sham invoices from front companies and then transferring them funds.

Arribas’ named turned up in the investigation, but the Brazilian police have not at this time linked the transfer to the garbage collection fraud.

“First of all, from what we’ve so far that there’s nothing new. There are apparently, elements, we have asked for more details on the investigation. We spoke with the Brazilian government, that wasn’t aware of the investigation, because this is one police officer from Sao Paulo speaking, not the Federal Police as an institution.

“It was a strange press conference, with many people involved but only one person mentioned, Gustavo Arribas. And what we have seen in the case that he doesn’t appear except for an indirect connection. And everything is based on the accusation by Meirelles, who has already been accused by Arribas in the courts for being a liar” said Peña at a press conference today after a Cabinet meeting.

“We ask for a certain amount of prudence so that we can consider the details but a priori, as we have always said, we fully back Gustavo Arribas in his work at the AFI.”

Arribas has been specifically accused of receiving US $850,000 through 14 transfers in 2013 from Alberto Youssef and Leonardo Merielles, two suspected bagmen in the Lava Jato case that have been cooperating with the police, that was routed through Hong Kong and then to Argentina.

Arribas lived in Brazil from 2008 to 2015, working as an agent for football players. He moved from Brazil to Argentina when he was appointed AFI director by President Mauricio Macri.

Searches were conducted in 15 locations as part of the investigation according to the Brazilian Federal Police and La Nación has reported that the searches were aimed at construction businessman Atila Reys Silva, a key player in the arrangement.

In an interview with La Nación, Milton Fornazari, head of the Descartes operation said that while it was not yet clear why Arribas was wired the funds, “what we do know is that they were carried out illegally, without being communicated to the Central Bank, that is to say on the margins of the national financial system, a classic typology of money-laundering to avoid being traced by the authorities.”

Asked by La Nación if he could link Arribas to the suspected fraud with the front companies, Fornazari said “no, we don’t know know if he is connected to that network here. The Brazilian operator was in charge of a professional money-laundering cell that provided services for various clients, not only the garbage collection contractors but also travel agencies and other business that do not seem to have a connection, in independent schemes.”

The Brazilian police has indicated that it will seek cooperation from Argentine judicial authorities to continue investigating.

Yesterday the AFI director issued a statement indicating that “in light of media reports that link me to money-laundering operations in Brazil, I would like to express that I had no link with the Lava Jato cases nor the recent Operation Descartes.”

AFI Director in a file photo from February 2017 (Photo via Noticias Argentinas / Hugo Villalobos)
AFI Director in a file photo from February 2017 (Photo via Noticias Argentinas / Hugo Villalobos)

Arribas also explained that “as a result of a sale of a property to Mr. Atila Reys Silva, US $ 70,745 were deposited into my account as payment for the furniture that was in the property that was part of the transaction.

“As is customary with these kinds of transactions, it was the buyer Atila Reys Silva who chose the means, persons and other details so that the funds were deposited into my bank account.”

Arribas was accused by Meirelles of being a recipient of illicit funds in January 2017, and yesterday the country’s top spy stressed that he had filed a criminal complaint against Meirelles for lying under oath. “I once again deny any kind of relationship with Leonardo Meirelles and/or Alberto Youssef, as well any kind of criminal behavior, and I maintain my permanent willingness to provide explanations.”

Peña also stressed this morning that in his view, at this time, there was “nothing new” in the accusations that had not already been explained by Arribas in 2017.

An Argentine judicial investigation into that case was closed in 2017 by Federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral, a decision which was appealed by Prosecutor Federico Delgado. Prosecutor Germán Moldes did not back that appeal, meaning that the case was dropped. A further appeal against the closure of the case was filed by prosecutor Sergio Rodríguez and it is now being studied by the Supreme Court.

Frente para la Victoria lawmakers in the Lower House, lead by Rodolfo Tailhade, have asked for Arribas to appear before the Lower House to provide face questions on the matter.