After a contentious public debate, the Argentine Senate voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve the raid order issued by Judge Claudio Bonadio to search former President and current Senator Cristina Kirchner’s properties. There were a total of three raids as part of the ongoing notebook scandal, carried out with the help of forensic scientists, dogs, and firefighters. Two of the raids occurred in houses that Kirchner owns in the province of Santa Cruz, while the third was in Kirchner’s Buenos Aires apartment in the neighborhood of Recoleta.
While most people’s attention was on the Recoleta raid, it was in Kirchner’s house in El Calafate, Santa Cruz, that federal forces and judicial officials uncovered a hidden vault with a reinforced metal door. Although no cash was retrieved from the safe, a virtual treasure trove of documents was ultimately discovered inside the safe, which had been hidden under a staircase.
The El Calafate raid, under the charge of the Argentine Federal Police, began on Friday and ended Sunday afternoon. The property is 485 square meters, and is located next door to Los Sauces Casa Patagónica, the boutique hotel that Kirchner owns.
According to reporting by Clarín’s Lucía Salinas, the concealed vault was detected with the help of police dogs and scanning equipment. The hidden safe was described by investigators as a “steel frame camouflaged with wood,” and was initially impossible to break into—one of the reasons why the search of the El Calafate property took much longer than initially expected.
Inside the vault were pen drives and folders full of intelligence information, including addresses, contact information, and other data on a number of notable figures. This included— most significantly—intelligence information on the federal judge who is currently leading the notebook scandal investigation, Claudio Bonadio.
There was also information on a number of Argentine politicians, specifically Kirchner’s political opponents, as well as lawyers, judges and prosecutors. Also notably, among the intelligence information in the safe was information on Federal Judge Sandra Arroyo Salgado, the ex-wife of Alberto Nisman.
Nisman, who had been the Argentine Special Prosecutor in charge of the 1994 AMIA bombing investigation since 2004, blamed Iran for the 1994 terrorist attack, and accused Kirchner in 2015 of conspiring to negotiate a secret agreement with Iran to clear the country of any responsibility in the AMIA bombing.
Less than a week later, Nisman was found dead in his apartment under mysterious circumstances. Although his death was initially ruled a suicide, the Argentine Justice ultimately determined that Nisman was murdered after having denounced Kirchner for covering up the AMIA attack.
Other intelligence discovered in the safe included reports on businessman Francisco de Narváez, the Argentine spy Jaime Stiuso, businessman Federico Elaskar—who was been implicated in a web of financial corruption scandals surrounding the Kirchners— wire-tapping transcriptions on the company Barrick Gold, information on the corruption scandal of Petrobras in Brazil, and even the banking data and movements of a number of businesses in Argentina. A report was also found on Pedro Tomás Viale, the Argentine counterintelligence agent found murdered under mysterious circumstances.
Also discovered in the vault was a report on an official complaint filed against Kirchner, denouncing that she had never actually attained a law degree, as she claims.
Why exactly Kirchner had all this information, and how she managed to obtain it, is—as of now—still a mystery. What is known is that this is a groundbreaking moment in the case, although the ultimate consequences and scope of the surprise discovery are still impossible to establish.
Ultimately, the discovery of such a lucrative treasure trove of documentation surprised many, especially since the raid was made with weeks of advance notice, and after Kirchner publicly announced on several different occasions that nothing would be found.
The retrieved information will now be scrutinized by investigators in the Court of Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio. This will happen in the midst of crucial days for the investigation, when Bonadio must resolve the procedural situation of all those involved in the case, including the former president—who is accused of being the “head of an illicit web of corruption” dedicated to collecting bribes in return for political favors.