Federal Prosecutor before the Cassation Court, Raúl Pleé, requested yesterday that media and business tycoon Cristóbal López – as well as his former business partner Fabián De Sousa – go back to being charged with defrauding the state and to pre-trial arrest.
López stands accused of avoiding paying AR $8 billion to the Argentine state by withholding taxes that his gas stations – called Oil – collected on behalf of the state every time someone pumped fuel. Adding the interests that piled up since he was first accused, the sum rises to AR $17 billion. He denies all charges.
The Prosecutor also requested AFIP tax collecting agency director during the Fernández de Kirchner administration, Ricardo Echegaray, also be indicted for allegedly consenting to the commission of said fraud.
Pleé’s request follows a completely opposed ruling made by an Appeals Court in March, which had determined that López should be released from prison and accused of simple tax evasion. This was a much lighter charge that wouldn’t put him behind bars and would allow him to enter a moratorium with AFIP to pay his debt.
The decision sent shock waves through the political spectrum, as the Macri administration considered this illustrate an untrustworthy judicial system that guaranteed impunity to the powerful. In an interview with Luis Majul, President Mauricio Macri personally criticized the judges, saying the ruling “outraged” him, and anticipating the government would appeal through the AFIP.
Not only was the ruling controversial, but how Judge Farah got to rule over it as well. The court that had the case was comprised of two judges, Ballestero and Leopoldo Bruglia. Since Ballestero voted in favor of the mentioned argument and Bruglia against, they needed a third judge to break the tie. And Farah was chosen.
Ballestero’s argument was that Farah was investigating another case that was connected with the one in question. However, the Supreme Court ordered on March 22 it be investigated if the conformation of that court was irregular.
The two judges who made the decision, Jorge Ballestero and Eduardo Farah, were under such heavy fire that none is currently in Comodoro Py’s Federal Appeals Court. Farah requested to be transferred from Comodoro Py to a Federal Financial Criminal Court in Buenos Aires City last week. And Ballestero is on a 20-day leave of absence that pundits speculate could be an implicit way of leaving office.
Now, it will be up to the Cassation Court, the highest criminal court in the country, to make a final decision. The chamber is formed by judges Hornos, Riggi, and Figueroa. They have five working days to make the decision, so we could learn it late next week or on the following Monday.
If they decide to uphold the request, then the indictment will be firm, and the investigation will likely be sent to a federal tribunal tasked with analyzing the information gathered during the investigation, and ultimately ruling over the fate of the accused. Nonetheless, if one of the parties is unsatisfied with the decision, it will be able to appeal it to higher instances.
López rose to public notoriety during the Kirchner administrations as a result of high-profile enterprises such as the purchase of TV channel C5N and Radio 10 station and the increasing of his participation in the energy sector, all through his holding called Grupo Indalo.
He is associated by many with former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner due to the favorable coverage the mentioned media outlets provided of her and, especially, because he also stands accused of being the private leg of a corruption scheme in which the former President is allegedly involved.
Both of them have been indicted in the so-called “Los Sauces” case, which is seeking to establish if Fernández de Kirchner’s real estate company that goes by that name 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. López rented several of the company’s properties throughout the years, actions that are thought to be kickbacks for the awarding of state contracts to him.