Photo via Día a Día

The Chamber of Deputies approved the Repentance Law — legislation that would allow suspects to ask for plea bargains — in a special session yesterday with 193 votes in favor and five against. The Expired Ownership bill (giving back illegally obtained assets to the State) and a motion to raid former Planning Minister Julio De Vido’s house and offices were also approved. These initiatives are now pending a Senate vote before they can be implemented.

Repentance Law

The Repentance Law was voted almost unanimously by 193 votes in favor and five against and 58 absentees. After making several modifications to the draft, the Victory Front (FpV) gave its support for the bill with 49 votes.

The five deputies who voted against the bill were from the Leftist Party: according to Deputy Myriam Bregman, “these [types of] laws are used to benefit the repressive apparatus of the State. “

If approved by the Senate, the Repentance Law would reduce the prison sentences of those convicted of a corruption-related crime provided they give reliable evidence or information about another crime. The severity of the crime being reported on must be equal to or greater than the crime the suspect (the person protected by the Repentance Law) is being tried for. The Repentance Law would be applicable, for example, to crimes that are related to drugs or human trafficking, among other offenses.

The Repentance Law is an updated version of preexisting pieces of legislation allowing for plea bargains in specific cases (human trafficking, terrorism, etc.). The new law essentially groups all of these different pieces of legislation under one umbrella law and, more importantly, allows suspects to invoke the law in cases of “fraud against the public administration” (i.e. corruption). Right now, there is no legislation allowing for plea bargains in corruption cases.

To give you an idea of how disjointed plea bargain legislation currently is, here are some examples of how a plea bargain can be invoked according to a suspect’s charge:

  • Regarding drug trafficking: Law 24.424 authorizes the judicial system to reduce a sentence by half in exchange for “useful information” to investigate or identify drug traffickers.
  • Regarding terrorism: Law 25.241 enables a similar action to be taken but with stricter requisites for the defendant. For example, the plea bargaining has to occur before the final sentence is announced and the information provided has to prevent a future crime or stop an ongoing scheme.
  • Regarding human trafficking and kidnapping: Law 26.364 outlines that the reduction or elimination of punishments can range from one third of the minimum jail time stipulated by the sentence to half the maximum jail time.
  • Regarding money laundering: Law 26.683 enables judges to allow suspects to repent and even conceal their identity in casea of money laundering for assets acquired illegally or for funding terrorist activities.

This Repentance Law discussion comes a week after former Planning Secretary José López was caught trying to bury millions of dollars in a convent: the incident allegedly accelerated the process to discuss the bill, which was being postponed by the government. His lawyer, Fernanda Herrera, has stated that they, “are evaluating whether or not to invoke the law […] there’s a strong chance [that they will].”

Some hope that López will indeed make use of the law to share sensitive information in the investigation into the alleged embezzlement scheme that allowed him to end up with US $8.5 million.

Plea bargains have been used in the high-profile Lázaro Báez Case, a massive money laundering scheme implicating the higher echelons of the former Kirchner administration.

Expired Ownership Bill

An Expired Ownership bill, which was encouraged by the FR’s leader Sergio Massa and supported by smaller parties, was also approved in the Lower House. In light of the large amount of corruption cases that are currently underway, the Expired Ownership bill seeks to repatriate goods that were illegally obtained by former public officials.

The Expired Ownership bill was approved by 135 votes to 50. There were three abstentions, which came from the Federal Commitment party and Carlos Heller, the sole member of his “Solidarity Caucus” (a caucus is supposed to be a group of deputies that vote along the same lines in Congress).

Julio De Vido

The possibility of raiding the house and offices of the former Planning Minister Julio De Vido was also be approved yesterday by 137 votes to 49. This is significant because he was Julio López’s boss during his time as Planning Secretary and was close to the Kirchners.

It may seem contradictory to let a person know beforehand that their house and offices will be raided: however, under the law of parliamentary jurisdiction, which gives parliamentarians immunity, the raids must be approved by Congress.

There was one abstention: Julio De Vido himself, who was present during the vote.