Kirchnerite financier Ernesto Clarens joined the ranks of the repentant yesterday and presented a plea bargain before Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio at the Comodoro Py courts as part of ongoing investigations into the Notebook Scandal, the corruption case currently rocking the Argentine political establishment.
The case revolves around notebooks surrendered to police by Oscar Centeno, who served as a driver for public works official Roberto Baratta. The notebooks detail alleged bribes from business leaders to high-ranking officials in the Kirchner administrations in exchange for public works project contracts.
After weeks of uncertainty, the federal justice system finally ratified an agreement with Clarens yesterday in which he accepted his role as a “Defendant-Collaborator” in the case, providing over forty pages of crucial information in a bid to see his sentence reduced.
The so-called “Repentance Law” was passed by Congress in 2016 and allows the reduction of prison sentences for defendants in corruption-related cases provided they give “accurate, verifiable and credible information or evidence” in a case. The information provided must relate to a figure who has equal or greater criminal responsibility to the defendant. Once approved by the judge, the defendant acquires “Defendant-Collaborator” status and receives a reduced sentence.
Last week, Clarens presented himself in court, but his testimony was judged to have too many gaps and half-truths to secure an agreement. On Friday, State Prosecutor Carlos Stornelli requested that Bonadio rescind the agreement and order Clarens’ arrest, a move that set precedent for future collaborators and showed that the prosecution will only accept full testimonies from those aiming to strike a deal.
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.
Yesterday, Clarens was accompanied by his lawyer, Hugo Pinto, and told the court that he had two main roles within the bribery scheme. The first was to deliver money to the late Daniel Muñoz, Néstor Kirchner’s private secretary in the luxurious Panamericano Hotel and in the Kirchner’s pad in upmarket Recoleta. The second was to convert the bribes, paid in Argentine pesos, to US dollars.
According to Infobae, Clarens provided a list of public works companies who had paid bribes of 10 to 20 percent of the advances and the work certificates. With Claren’s testimony, the initial list of companies implicated in the scandal, provided by Carlos Wagner from the Argentine Construction Chamber, has broadened significantly and may see more businesspeople called to testify as either informants or defendants in this case.
Clarens was the preferred financier of the Kirchners, an influential and central player in the Kircher administration’s finances. He has previously been investigated in conjunction with other corruption cases linked to the infamous duo and even his meeting with Néstor has whiffs of comic-book villainy. Legend has it that they met when Néstor was governor of Santa Cruz, in the underground garage of the building in which they both had offices.
For this reason, his decision to collaborate with police is significant as he can provide insider information on various ongoing judicial proceedings linked to the former Presidents. In 2016, Prosecutor Guillermo Marijuán decided to investigate Clarens in conjunction with the ongoing money laundering case commonly known as the “K Money Trail.” In his testimony yesterday, Clarens gave information about Néstor Kircher’s relationship with Lázaro Báez, a businessman and one of the central figures in that scandal.
Meanwhile, Cristina Kirchner has appeared twice before the courts for this case alone, although she has testified seven times on charges of corruption and money laundering since leaving the Casa Rosada in 2015. In each testimony, she has claimed that she is a victim of political persecution and that the whole case is a diversion tactic used by the Macri administration to turn the public’s attention away from the current economic crisis. However, Clarens’ testimony is a significant development as this key player in the scandal may have evidence that will further solidify Cristina’s role in the scheme.
With this testimony, Clarens joined the 16 other businesspeople who have opted to assist the police with their inquiries in exchange for a levied sentence. As of Friday 7th September 2018, the full list of “Defendant-Collaborators” is:
- Sánchez Caballero (Iesca)
- Jorge Neira (Electroingeniería)
- Armando Losón (Albanesi Constructora)
- Juan Carlos de Goyochea (Isolux)
- Carlos Wagner (Argentine Construction Chamber)
- Juan Chediack (Argentine Construction Chamber)
- Claudio Glazman (Sociedad Latinoamericana de Inversiones, S.A.)
- Ángelo Calcaterra (Iesca)
- Héctor Zabaleta (Techint)
- Francisco Valenti (Pescarmona)
- Patricio Gerbi (Coarco S.A.)
- Aldo Roggio (Benito Roggio e Hijos S.A.)
- Gabriel Romero (Hidrovía S.A.)
- Gabriel Losi (Losi S.A.)
- Marcela Sztenberg (Equimac S.A.)
- Enrique Pescarmona (Pescarmona)
- Ernesto Clarens (Kirchners’ financier)
Former Civil Servants
- Oscar Centeno (Barrata’s driver)
- Claudio Uberti (former head of Highway Concessions Supervisory Body or OCCOVI)
- José Lópex (ex-Secretary of Public Works)