The Federal Chamber has confirmed the prosecution of former Planning Minister Julio De Vido for the 2012 Buenos Aires railway disaster, also known as the Once Tragedy, in which 51 people were killed and 789 injured. De Vido is also being investigated in money laundering and embezzlement cases.
What was the Once Tragedy, again? During rush hour on February 22nd, 2012, Train 16 of the Sarmiento line crashed into the buffers at the Once train station, the end of the line, because the brakes were not activated. The first three carriages, which were full of commuters, were severely damaged, resulting in the death of 51 people (including an unborn child) and 789 injured.
In December, the federal court investigating the case read the verdicts for 29 people involved in the Once Tragedy. The court sentenced former Transportation Secretaries Ricardo Jaime and Juan Pablo Schiavi to six and eight years in prison, respectively, for their responsibility. That was when the court asked at the time for De Vido to be investigated in order to establish whether or not he also shared responsibility due to “serious failures in the public railway system and service providers,” which fell under his jurisdiction.
Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio prosecuted De Vido in May on the grounds that, as Planning Minister, there was “no way” that De Vido could have been oblivious of the deteriorated and sub-par state of the railway system. Today, the Federal Chamber upheld Bonadio’s prosecution, stating that as Planning Minister, “he did not properly monitor the operations [regarding] the trains, the infrastructure, […] personnel and the use of public funds for the company Buenos Aires Trains S.A.” The Chamber also approved Bonadio’s seizure of De Vido’s assets for AR $600 million.
The Once Tragedy is not the only case weighing De Vido down lately: last month, the Lower House approved raiding De Vido’s house and offices by 137 votes to 49. It may seem contradictory to let a person know beforehand that their house and offices will be raided: however, under the law of parliamentary jurisdiction, which gives legislators immunity, the raids must be approved by Congress.
De Vido is also being charged alongside Jaime (the former Transportation Secretary) regarding irregularities in negotiations over new railway contracts. In addition, he was summoned yesterday by Federal Judge Sergio Torres to testify in the Federal Airlines (LAFSA) Case regarding an airline that, despite the money invested, never got a plane off the ground. The fact that his former righthand man, José López, was caught trying to bury US $8.5 million in a convent last month doesn’t help, either.
However, the real significance of De Vido’s prosecution lies in his close relationship to former Presidents Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Néstor appointed him as the economy and public works minister for Santa Cruz Province (Néstor was governor of Santa Cruz at the time). De Vido would later be the head of the country’s Planning Ministry from 2003 to 2015 (i.e. the Kirchner era), where he was in charge of approving the budget for all public works allocated by the Kirchner administration.
Public works have become the central focus of a plethora of corruption cases linked to the previous administration, especially the Lázaro Báez Case in which embezzled funds were allegedly derived from overpriced public works. This would point towards an alleged infrastructure of systematic corruption that permeated all the higher political echelons of the previous administration because of its sheer scale (such corruption would be hard to achieve without complicity from high up).