Oscar Centeno, the driver at the center of the massive corruption scandal that surfaced yesterday and detailed an alleged complex scheme involving bribes during the Nestor and Cristina Kirchner administrations, has reportedly taken a plea deal and will ratify the information included in a series of notebooks he secretly kept and detailed names, locations and amounts of cash his vehicle transported.
Centeno declara como arrepentido. Ratificará lo que escribió en los cuadernos
— Omar Lavieri ? (@omarlavieri) August 2, 2018
“Centeno has taken a plea deal. He will ratify what he wrote in the notebooks,” tweeted Infobae journalist Omar Lavieri, who is working in the Federal Courthouses of Comodoro Py.
Before answering Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio’s questions, Centeno met with Prosecutor Carlos Stornelli, who offered him a reduced prison sentence in exchange for information that is substantial enough to either take down other suspects who are as relevant to the investigation as he is or were higher up in the organization; or provide information that leads to the recovery of the money that was allegedly embezzled. According to his notebooks, he handled at least US $53 million, but the prosecution believes the sum could actually amount to US $200 million.
“Yes, I think it is possible [to offer him the deal],” Stornelli told La Nación, when asked is this option was on the table. Now, it seems to have become a reality.
If Centeno’s information proves useful, the prosecutor can change the charges and instead accuse him of having attempted to commit the crimes he currently stands accused of. Then, Judge Bonadio would have to approve the deal.
Journalists working at the Comodoro Py Courthouse had earlier suggested this possibility after learning that Centeno had decided to fire his lawyer, who had been appointed for a temporary post in the criminal justice system during the second Fernández de Kirchner administration – but lost it as a result of a posterior ruling – and got a public defendant.
At the same time, in what seemed to be a thinly veiled message to Centeno coming from the Anti-Corruption Agency, director Laura Alonso took to Twitter yesterday to offer a friendly reminder of what the new plea deal regulation, passed by the Macri administration, includes:
Esta es la ley 27.304 para arrepentidos que quieran colaborar con la Justicia en casos de corrupción. Fue aprobada en 2016 y establece reglas claras sobre cómo proceder ante el fiscal. Fariña y Vandenbroele la han utilizado. https://t.co/xMszblmJnH
— Laura Alonso ? (@lauritalonso) August 1, 2018
“Here’s a link to Law 27,304 for people who regret their actions and now want to help the justice system in corruption cases. It was passed in 2016 and establishes clear rules regarding how to proceed before the prosecutor. [Leonardo] Fariña and [Alejandro] Vandenbroele have used it,” reads Alonso’s tweet, which references people who took plea deals in the past in the so-called “K money trail” and “Ciccone” corruption cases.
En estos 2 años la ley del arrepentido y la ley de responsabilidad empresaria en la corrupción han cambiado los incentivos de manera drástica. Se aprobaron en 2016 y 2017. No las tuvimos antes porque fue imposible. Uds entienden por qué #cuadernosdecorrupción
— Laura Alonso ? (@lauritalonso) August 1, 2018
“In these two years, both that law and the law of corporate responsibility in corruption cases, have drastically changed incentives. They were passed in 2016 and 2017, respectively. We couldn’t pass them before because it was impossible. You know why,” she added using the hashtag #cuadernosdecorrupción or #corruptionnotebooks and suggesting that the previous Kirchner administration had refused to pass similar legislation.
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.
Many of the accused in the case arrived in Comodoro Py this morning to testify too. While some commented on their current legal situations, Aflredo Huber, Roberto Baratta’s lawyer, questioned the authenticity of the notebooks.
“I didn’t know Centeno’s notebooks existed. There are some strange things in them, such as the wording he uses. I’m not sure it wasn’t dictated to him. It is a possibility that the notebooks don’t belong to Centeno. Also, he could be a pathological liar,” he said.
Huber also pointed at Centeno’s ex wife, who, through an accusation against her husband in another case, kicked off this investigation. In November last year, the woman unexpectedly appeared before Judge Bonadio, then in charge of the investigation, and described her then-husband’s activities.
La Nación reported that as a result of her statements, Centeno, fearing detention and the discovery of the notebooks, gave them to a friend for safekeeping. That’s when journalist Diego Cabot accessed them and decided to hand them over to the courts so they could decide whether to pursue an investigation.