A date has finally been set.
On October 30th, at the Comodoro Py Federal Courthouse, the so-called “K Money Trail” case, which investigates whether there was a money laundering scheme set up to embezzle assets when Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was president, will begin.
The accused with the highest profile is embattled businessman Lázaro Báez. A close friend of late President Néstor Kirchner when he was still governor of the Santa Cruz Province, Báez left his post at a provincial bank and quickly rose to prominence as a main government contractor in 2003.
However, he fell from grace along with the Frente para la Victoria (FpV) party once Cristina left office. A few months after Mauricio Macri became president, in April 2016, Báez was put in pre-trial arrest as a result of his alleged involvement in the case and the judge’s belief that he could be a flight risk. He has been behind bars ever since.
Despite the case being named after her, (the K is for Kirchner) the former President will not be one of the 25 people to stand trial. Turns out that, while Federal Prosecutor Guillermo Marijuán pressed charges against her in the early days of the investigation and both the Financial Information Unit (UIF) – the prosecutors’ unit tasked with investigating financial crimes – and the Anti-Corruption Office (OA) supported this decision, Federal Judge Sebastián Casanello rejected upholding the charges, arguing there was not enough evidence to do so.
This, however, changed two weeks ago, after a Federal Court of Appeals ordered the judge to call the former President into questioning. The court indicated that Báez has so far been accused of being part of a massive, wide-ranging corruption scheme that the former President is also suspected of being involved with, and that while both are being investigated in other separate cases, they all eventually intertwine.
“If, according to investigations, Lázaro Báez was in charge of taking public funds [through creating a company that was later awarded government contracts], of partially ensuring they would end in the hands of those who at the time were public officials [“Los Sauces” and “Hotesur” cases] and to also siphon funds overseas to then re-introduce them in a way that hid its origin [“K Money Trail”], the suspicion about Cristina Fernández in the last phase is founded,” reads a part of the ruling, which also argues all indicators point at Báez being a front-man for the former President.
However, considering that the other accused have already been sent to trial, the former President would only face the court if she followed the judicial process they have already gone through: namely, have charges pressed against her by the judge, be indicted and only then be sent to trial.
According to data from investigations used in different corruption cases, Báez was awarded 52 government contracts for a total amount of AR $46 billion overall. A relevant percentage of these funds allegedly ended up in the Kirchners’ pockets through the rental of properties and hotel rooms – “Los Sauces” and “Hotesur” respectively – that would then not be used although the books would always claim they were full.
This case began in 2013, following a journalistic investigation published in the TV show Periodismo Para Todos, which revealed alleged maneuvers conducted by Báez’s aides to siphon US $60 million overseas . One of them, Leonardo Fariña, decided to confess his involvement and provide relevant information in exchange for a plea deal.