Over the past weeks, the health insurance scheme used by Buenos Aires province state workers, IOMA, has been embroiled in controversy after several officials from former BA Governor Daniel Scioli’s administration were accused of orchestrating a scheme to “systematically” defraud the organization.
But before delving into the accusation, let’s start with the basics: What on earth is IOMA?
The Institute of Assistance and Medical Works of the Buenos Aires Province (IOMA) is the health insurance the provincial government provides all its state workers. But it’s not limited to state workers. Considering it’s an open and paid system, any other person living in the province can sign up with IOMA. It currently has 2.5 million members.
The organization, which was led by Antonio La Scaleia from 2010 to 2015, has an annual budget of AR$22 billion. This amounts to almost 93 percent of Santa Cruz’s entire budget, Infobae explains, just to put things into context. And according to more than a few people, a large chunk of this budget didn’t go where it was supposed to. Starting in April, 13 criminal complaints have been filed pointing to irregularities in the way IOMA operated when Scioli ran the province. Let’s take a look at the most important.
The Health Insurance Workers’ Association last week said the IOMA was subjected to a “systematic fraud” by La Scaleia and the organization’s board. Much like most other cases of the kind, the association argues the embezzlement was allegedly carried through illegal surcharges paid to private companies — ghost companies, generally — owned by people with ties to the officials in question. That’s why the association requested the courts investigate the owners of these companies to find out if they have any “political, corporate or family ties to former Scioli officials.”
The surcharges increased during election years, the association said, giving specific examples of how it paid astronomical amounts for certain medications and prosthetic limbs.
A parallel investigation carried out by the Buenos Aires province Special Prosecutor’s Office of Complex Crimes discovered an even more sinister scheme that involved Scioli officials removing expensive cancer drugs from IOMA using fake IDs — and in some cases even identifications belonging to dead people — to then sell them in the black market.
“The mechanism consisted of designating oncological drugs to people who had already passed away or who had already received medicine. The value of these drugs oscillates between AR$17,000 and AR$40,000. They were picked up from pharmacies by people who pretended to be family members of the patients,” explained prosecutor Jorge Paolini. Four people, including two former Scioli officials, were arrested as a result of the investigation.
The association also says La Scaleia’s style of life is not in accordance to his AR$72,000 salary. And that’s not his only concern. He is also being investigated on the other end of the the embezzlement scheme: money laundering. His name appeared in the Panama Papers and it is believed he may have used that offshore account to send IOMA money.
A potential smoking gun? IOMA’s Cabinet Chief during La Scaleia’s tenure is also a shareholder in the same Panama Papers company.
Federal prosecutor Álvaro Garganta, who is already investigating the potential IOMA irregularities as a result of a large denunciation by lawmaker Elisa Carrió, who has accused Scioli of embezzling public funds through pretty much all of the province’s main cash cows: IOMA, the provincial Lottery and the water-distributing firm Aguas Bonaerenses. Garganta must be pretty excited to see what the investigation has in store for him considering a separate probe found a safe inside a metal sculpture of a dragon.
According to an audit carried out by Governor María Eugenia Vidal administration, the accused officials embezzled AR$1.5 billion from IOMA over the last four years. And it could be way more considering the association’s accusation also notes that the officials allegedly doctored the organizations’ accounting books to have the current administration pay for a large part of its predecessor’s debts.
Shortly after the first accusations surface, Scioli himself came out to tell his truth and, even though he conceded there had been embezzlement issues within IOMA, he said any deviation of funds were not a systematic plan but rather the actions of rogue officials.
“Our administration was the one that made the first accusations and its results are the recent conclusions that prosecutor Paolini reached,” Scioli said. We’ll see what the new investigations have to say about that.