Along with Judge Claudio Bonadio, federal prosecutor Carlos Stornelli is in charge of the ongoing “notebooks of corruption” case that triggered a wave of high-profile arrests last week.
In March, journalists Diego Cabot, Candela Ini, and Santiago Nasra from La Nación got hold of eight notebooks that contained a detailed record of alleged bribe payments from business leaders to public officials in exchange for lucrative public works projects between between 2008 and 2015, during both Néstor and Cristina Kirchner’s administrations.
Photocopies of the notebooks were passed onto the Argentine Justice, and kept secret until last week, when the detention of at least 18 people implicated in the massive corruption scheme was ordered by federal judge Bonadio on August 1st.
The notebooks at the center of the scandal were written by Oscar Centeno, the chofer of Roberto Barrata, the former secretary of Coordination and Management in the Federal Ministry of Planning. Barrata is at the center of the scandal, the highest-profile official arrested yesterday, with millions in dirty money allegedly passing through his office.
Centeno would allegedly drive Barreta on his route to collect what would amount to millions of dollars in bribes during the Kirchner administrations— from businesses who would receive lucrative public works grants from the Federal Ministry of Planning in return—reportedly transporting sacks full of cash to and from locations. Centeno was careful to record everything that happened during his journeys, writing down days, times, names, addresses, and the amount of money that he helped move.
On August 2nd, Centeno began testifying in court under a plea deal. “Centeno gave us new information, some of which was crucial,” Stornelli told La Nación in the aftermath of the testimony. “We will be able to get to the truth.”
Today, Stornelli confirmed that, as soon as the notebooks were unearthed, select investigators working on the Kirchner’s widespread corruption allegations knew that the discovery would trigger what is now possibly the most significant government corruption scandal in the history of the country.
“I immediately imagined that it would cause something huge,” the representative of the Public Ministry emphasized. “[The notebooks are] the documentation of all that we had imagined, exactly what we all had suspected.”
Because of the magnitude of the discovery, Stornelli also stressed the danger that the notebooks presented before the detentions were ordered, especially during the initial stages of the discovery and investigation: “If anyone knew that we had these notebooks, they would have killed us.” Before the detentions were ordered, only three people in the Justice’s office were aware of the existence of the notebooks until last week.
While much criticism has arisen over the fact that the Justice has never been able to get ahold of the physical notebooks, and instead used photocopies to uphold their case, Stornelli dismissed that the lack of the originals would hinder the ongoing case in any way. He has emphasized that, with both the photocopies and testimony of Centeno himself, “all the evidence that has arisen makes the presence of the physical notebooks irrelevant.”