Argentina woke up to some explosive breaking news today after Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio ordered the detention of at least 15 people in relation to a massive corruption scheme that allegedly took place during the Néstor and Cristina Kirchner administrations. 11 of them have effectively been placed under detention and many more people are likely to follow suit as the hours go by, and we will update this article as more information becomes available.
Former public officials and business leaders are being accused of both paying and receiving bribes for the awarding of public works, primarily in the energy and construction sectors. The highest-profile official arrested is the Planing Ministry’s former Secretary of Coordination and Administration, Roberto Baratta. He was one of the closest officials to former Planning Minister Julio De Vido (currently in pre-trial arrest himself since last year) but as a result of an accusation in another corruption case. Other people who worked in the ministry, tasked with handling all public works during the Kirchner years were detained as well.
This scandal is the result of an incredible investigation conducted by journalists from La Nación. In March of this year, Diego Cabot, Candela Ini, and Santiago Nasra got ahold of eight notebooks belonging to Baratta’s driver, Oscar Centeno, in which he kept a detailed record of the payments he received and moved between 2008 and 2015. The names, addresses, dates, locations, and amounts of money of each one were meticulously written down, and whose copies the journalists gave to Federal Prosecutor Carlos Stornelli.
This investigation could potentially reach the highest officials of the Kirchner administrations. In fact, former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has already been called into questioning by Judge Bonadio, the first step in any judicial investigation. Based on the outcome of this (and, by the way, she can decline to attend or, as she usually does, show up but refuse to answer questions and deliver a written statement instead) the judge will decide whether to press charges against her. Former head of the AFI intelligence agency Oscar Parrilli, former Cabinet Chief Juan Manuel Abal Medina and former Federal Judge Norberto Oyarbide have also been called into questioning.
For now, and since this scandal surfaced, Cristina Kirchner has remained silent.
As for the business leaders involved, Bonadio also ordered among others the detention of Gerardo Ferreyra, owner of Electroingeniería, one of the companies that grew the most during the Kirchner administrations; and of Javier Sánchez Caballero, who was the General Manager of IECSA, the company previously owned by President Mauricio Macri’s cousin, Ángelo Calcaterra.
According to Infobae, the La Nación journalists who brought this to light learned about the notebook’s existence from Centeno’s ex-wife – whose identity remains secret – who revealed to them that the driver regularly told her about his illicit activities. Centeno reportedly gave them to a friend of his, fearing they could be found in his home. This unidentified friend, however, made copies of the notebooks and when Centeno asked for them back, they were returned without him knowing there copies in existence.
“Based on calculations made by the prosecution, a total of US $160 million were transported by the Toyota Corolla driven by [Centeno]. Nonetheless, investigators agree that the amount could have been up to 50 percent higher, taking into account logs that don’t have concrete amounts,” reads a telling passage of the article in which the journalists detail how the investigation went down.
According to the shocking case, all the transported cash ended up in one of the following three places: the Kirchner family’s personal residence in the neighborhood of Recoleta, the Presidential residence in Olivos, or the offices belonging to the Chief of Staff.
The notebooks detail that back when Néstor Kirchner was still alive, all bags either went to his apartment in Recoleta, where his private secretary Daniel Muñoz would collect them, or to Olivos. When the amounts surpassed US $2 million, Centeno described, Baratta and De Vido would personally enter the residence to hand over the money to Néstor Kirchner.
Centeno kept track of everything: “He described meetings in hotel parking lots where exchanges took place. He wrote down the license plates of the cars that were used, whose owners can easily be identified. He weighed the bags which he sometimes had to put in the trunk. He also wrote down each and every address he went to to drop off or receive bags. Some of them are companies, some are easily identifiable houses,” reads a passage of the article written by Infobae’s Omar Lavieri.
After Néstor Kirchner’s death in October 2010, Centeno stopped writing. Only in 2013, three years later, he resumed his activity. La Nación published an extract of the notebook in which he addresses the decision:
“Today, May 6, 2013, I go back to writing; after Néstor Kirchner’s death I stopped doing so. I thought that after his passing the suitcasing wouldn’t be done anymore. But it continued. Its frequency was reduced, with the difference that now money is [also] being collected for Minister De Vido and Baratta himself. I did not want to write anything else, fearing being discovered and left out of a job. But I decided to [resume] because in a meeting held by Minister De Vido, Baratta and Madam President Cristina F. Kirchner, she instructed them to keep getting money from companies for future electoral campaigns,” the passage reads.
Centeno picked up bags full of money from 30 different addresses. Other places were used as “safe houses” to store them. “In the days following the operations, and once Baratta would have taken his cut, part of the money collected would be given to Daniel Muñoz in the apartment where the former President currently lives,” La Nación recounts, based on the notebook’s information.
After another hiatus between 2013 and 2015, Centeno clarifies in his last notebook that he would go back to keeping tracks of the events because “I consider it incredible not having done so for so long.” “To clarify, they have continued uninterrupted with the companies that are awarded public works,” reads another passage.
Officials from the Kirchner administration have already seen themselves being at the center of controversy for handling bags full of money before. In June 2016, former Public Works Secretary and De Vido’s right-hand man, José López, was caught in fraganti tossing roughly US $9 million dollars in cash over the walls of a supposed convent. López has been in pre-trial arrest since.
This explosive revelation is set to send shockwaves throughout Argentina’s political world and will probably continue to occupy headlines for days to come.