Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was indicted yesterday in the so-called “notebooks scandal.” And although this is the six court case against her, this case is especially relevant due to its magnitude, the numerous amount of high-profile public and private sector leaders involved and the mounting evidence provided by both the content of the notebooks written by infamous driver Oscar Centeno and those who requested plea deals, in hopes of receiving a shorter prison sentence against them in exchange for information relevant to the case.
Specifically, Ernesto Clarens, José López, Carlos Wagner and Claudio Uberti who, from different standpoints, detailed a wide-ranging corruption scheme where for 12 years a group of government officials and business leaders paid and received kickbacks in exchange for giving and receiving government contracts, especially in the construction, energy and transportation sectors.
In a ruling that is over 500-pages-long, Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio describes the scaffolding of this scheme, indicating that it was “all aimed at distributing bribes among corrupt officials who, greedily, ensured that a group of business leaders also filled their pockets” with ill-gotten money.
Bonadio indicted 42 people and determined that most had to be remanded in custody, with the exception of those who reached plea deals. Besides the names mentioned above, other high-profile businessmen (yes, they are all men) and former officials are:
- Ángelo Calcaterra: cousin of President Mauricio Macri, he was the CEO of Iecsa construction company between 2007 and 2016 – it belonged to the Macri family conglomerate before – and was one of the first to request a plea bargain. He said he was forced to contribute to the Frente Para la Victoria’s (FpV) electoral campaigns, but further revelations about the scheme being far from circumscribed to campaigns cast doubts over the veracity of his testimony, something that could cause him trouble as the case develops.
- Aldo Roggio: Roggio provided concrete evidence about the bribes that Metrovías, the company operating the subway system and of which he is also head of, paid to Kirchnerite officials. Namely, former Transportation Secretary Ricardo Jaime, who has been in prison since 2016 as a result of his involvement in other corruption cases. He revealed that Metrovías, had to give back – kick back – five percent of the subsidies the government granted the company to operate the system. If he refused, the government would terminate the contract.
- Claudio Uberti: Uberti was the head of the government agency tasked with overseeing the private companies administering different routes and highways in the country between 2003 and 2007. In some extracts from his explosive testimony that first made the rounds, he admitted to having engaged in corrupt activities during his time in office indicating that, for example, he was tasked with receiving US $150,000 from every company from his sector that had contracts with the State.
- Former Federal Judge Norberto Oyarbide: after initially denying all accusations against him, he requested a plea deal and revealed he had been pressured to dismiss an accusation against Cristina and Néstor Kirchner for unlawful enrichment in 2009.
- Former Planning Minister Julio De Vido: in prison since November 2017 as a result of his alleged involvement in the other case, he is accused of being one of the organizers of the scheme.
- Oscar Parrilli: he was a senior official in the Cristina Kirchner administration
- Roberto Baratta: currently in pre-trial arrest, he was De Vido’s right-hand-man at the Planning Minister during the Kirchner administrations.
- Gerardo Ferreyra: the head of Electroingeniería construction company, he was awarded several government contracts during the Kirchner administrations.
Bonadio also called into questioning Kirchnerite youth organization “La Cámpora” leaders Eduardo “Wado” De Pedro, Andrés Larroque and José Ottavis, as well as former media mogul Sergio Spolski, whose media outlets filed for bankruptcy shortly after Cristina Kirchner left office.
But despite Bonadio’s decision, it is still unlikely the former President will be put behind bars anytime soon. She continues to be protected by the congressional immunity her senate seat grants her, and even though the Cambiemos caucus in the Upper House has already warned it would vote in favor of stripping her from it should a court of appeals confirm the indictment and pre-trial arrest, the vote will not garner enough support.
The head of the Partido Justicialista caucus Miguel Pichetto, who leads the party that has the ability to tip the scale one way or the other (considering Cambiemos would vote in favor and Kirchner’s Unidad Ciudadana against such request) once again confirmed he will not vote in favor of doing so until there is a firm sentence against her. And that eventual scenario is still far away.
Nonetheless, the case continues its relentless advance and a trial starts to loom large. The indictment is the last investigative step before the judge and the prosecutor – prosecutors, in this case – send the case to a federal tribunal which, after listening what will likely be many witnesses, will determine whether to sentence the accused. They will, however, be able to appeal the decision to a higher court.
Federal Prosecutors Carlos Stornelli and Carlos Rívolo, same as Bonadio, have already made up their minds about the existence of a criminal scheme. In a TV interview on Monday, Stornelli said “we believe Cristina Kirchner was the head of an illegal organization (legally called “illicit association” here) since late 2010,” likely after Néstor Kirchner passed away in October of that year.
The prosecutor went on to highlight the testimony provided by former Public Works Secretary José López, who said that the infamous bags he was caught throwing over the walls of a convent in June 2016 belonged to Cristina Kirchner. López indicated that Kirchner’s then-private secretary, Fabián Gutiérrez, contacted him to give him instructions regarding the need to move the money.
“Fabián told me I had to move some money. He did not disclose the exact sum, but I assumed it was large. On June 13, three people came to me on Fabián’s behalf and gave me the bags that were then seized and left,” said López in his testimony, in which he also assured that “Fabián was Cristina.”
In another passage of the interview, Stornelli revealed López feared retaliation for his actions – he said he feared Cristina because she was a “very vengeful person” – and that he agreed to leave part of his testimony out of the final document to preserve him. This decision was met with harsh criticism, especially from detractors of the investigation, who were quick to point out the document has legal character and therefore should transcribe everything that was said in the meeting.
A menos que hayan hablado de fútbol esto no se puede hacer. Hay al menos dos posibles delitos acá. pic.twitter.com/Wg3UP4s9tr
— Iván Schargrodsky (@ischargro) September 18, 2018
“Unless they talked about football, this cannot be done. There are at least two possible crimes here,” reads the tweet by C5N anchor Iván Shargrodsky.
Regardless of the controversy, the prosecutor indicated that the other conclusive testimonies for his case were provided by Clarens, Wagner and Uberti – without taking the notebooks into account – let’s take a look at the most relevant statements each one of them provided:
As mentioned before, Uberti was the head of the government agency tasked with overseeing the private companies administering different routes and highways in the country between 2003 and 2007. In some extracts from his explosive testimony that first made the rounds, he admitted to having engaged in corrupt activities during his time in office indicating that, for example, he was tasked with receiving US $150,000 from every company from his sector that had contracts with the State. He also described his interaction with business leaders involved in the corruption scheme, both local and foreign, as well as different episodes involving the former Presidents.
Uberti went on to explain that the suitcases made it to Santa Cruz via the Presidential plane – Tango 01 – and in plain sight. He assured that “the pilot working for the Kirchners was a ‘Potro’ Velázquez, named Sergio,” and recalled that “Kirchner pulled the pilot from the Air Force to put him in charge of the Tango 01.”
In his own testimony, Sergio Velázques raised suspicion about the Kirchners’ procedure to bring their suitcases onto the Presidential plane. “Five minutes before the plane would take off, cars and vans would enter the tarmac. They were synchronized with the helicopter carrying the presidential family and their secretaries. The moment they made it to the tarmac, the cars and vans would park next to the plane and in less than three minutes they would board all the suitcases, which were not scanned nor dispatched,” he said.
Uberti claimed the money was taken to the house the Kirchners had in Río Gallegos, in the Santa Cruz Province, and stored in vaults they bought from the Banco Hipotecario. Cristina Kirchner’s properties were raided in late August, but no vault was found. Law enforcement officials, however, did raise suspicion about the nature of a dressing room in the house in El Calafate, noting it was located in an underground level and that the door had a steel frame. The President posted a video on her YouTube account this weekend, showing the state her house was left in after the raiding and claiming there was no underground level.
Clarens is allegedly the architect behind a sophisticated financial framework that allowed bribery, money laundering and offshore accounts to pass undetected for many years. With this plea bargain, there will be many quaking in their boots as one of the central figures in at least one Kirchner corruption scandal dishes the dirt on what he witnessed and organized.
“Wagner explained that the ‘Public Works Club’ [‘el Club de la Obra Pública’ in Spanish, the way the group of companies that were usually awarded the contracts was known], decided which three companies would bid in the tenders, agreed on the budgets they would present, and then would decide who would win. That company had to pay the bribes,” reads an article from Infobae which recounts the information provided by Wagner.
Given his post, Wagner was the conduit between the Kirchner administrations and the private companies bidding for state contracts
Since it is practically a given that the accused will appeal Bonadio’s decision – in fact, Cristina Kirchner’s lawyer, Carlos Beraldi anticipated he will appeal – the case will be sent to an appeals court and potentially the cassation court, the highest criminal court in the country. If the two instances confirm the charges, then the judge and the prosecutors will have free range to send the case to trial. In the meantime, Bonadio will continue the investigation and potentially charge more suspects. “Given its exceptionalism, magnitude and complexity,” Bonadio determined it is necessary to continue investigating a scheme that “took state funds in detriment of education, health, security, pensions, and left the most vulnerable without sewers, running water, services and safe transport.”
Most of the accused were charged with belonging to an illegal organization dedicated to embezzling state funds, and could receive sentences ranging between three and 10 years in prison. However, Bonadio considered the former President to be the head of this organization, and was therefore charged with a crime ranging between five and ten years. If found guilty and stripped from her immunity, she would definitely go to prison, as the Argentine criminal code establishes that only those who are sentenced to three years or less are eligible for parole.
Cristina Kirchner’s future oscillates between leading a sector of the opposition and potentially running against President Macri in next year’s elections, and the inside of a cell.