The political scandal known as “the notebooks of corruption,” which revealed a (still alleged) corruption scheme involving high-profile business leaders and former officials of the Kirchner administration, and goes all the way up to former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, continued to unfold over the weekend, and is set to pick up the pace in the days to come.
The last days saw several events that will undoubtedly produce relevant consequences in the case revealed by La Nación, with three business leaders taking plea bargains and thus accepting having committed the crimes in exchange for a reduction in their sentences. And in fact, one of them is Ángelo Calcaterra, cousin of President Mauricio Macri and former owner of now-defunct construction company Iecsa.
The investigation’s aftershocks are not circumscribed to the case itself and are already spreading to others, such as the Argentine chapter of the Lava Jato, the corruption scandal that is taking down the entire Brazilian political and economic establishment. Furthermore, as days go by, more information comes to light about the events that led to the surfacing of the scandal, as well as the mindset of the people involved. Namely, Federal Prosecutor Carlos Stornelli and the person who gave the notebooks to the La Nación journalist Diego Cabot who broke the story, Jorge Bagicalupo.
There’s a lot to cover, so let’s unpack one event at a time to have a clear picture of where the case is right now, and what to expect in the next few days.
An event that can end up being as relevant as the notebooks’ information took place on Friday afternoon, as the first business leader involved in the scandal, Juan Carlos de Goycoechea, decided to take a plea bargain. De Goycoechea works for the Argentine branch of Spanish company Isolux Corsán and, according to the notebooks, ordered the payment of bribes to Roberto Baratta between 2008 and October 6, 2015, a mere 19 days before the Presidential elections. He admitted to paying the bribes but said the sums were lower, and that he only did so because Kirchnerite officials pressured him to “contribute to electoral campaigns.”
Isolux was already being investigated in several countries, and in fact was suspended from the registry of construction companies in Argentina in July 2017, suspected of having received an inflated state contract – potentially to pay kickbacks to the officials who awarded it – to build an energy plan in the Santa Cruz Province. Former Planning Minister Julio De Vido is in pre-trial arrest as a result of his still alleged involvement in the case. Roberto Baratta was behind bars too; he was released briefly, only to return to prison last week, this time due to the notebooks.
The Spanish company was also embroiled in controversy for potential shady businesses with the company owned by the President’s family. Perfil journalist Emilia Delfino revealed in January this year that the Grupo Macri bought and then resold six wind farms, skipping the entire tender process. “With the help of an accountant, the firm acquired the contracts from Isolux in 2016. Months later, they were sold to Genneia and Chinese firm Goldwind for a turnover of US $15 million,” reads the article’s excerpt.
Although the events described in the notebooks took place during the Kirchner administrations, the Macri last name kept coming up during the past days, as the second business leader who took a plea bargain in the case was Javier Sánchez Caballero, former CEO of Iecsa. And even though his name did not figure in the notebooks, Calcaterra spontaneously appeared before Bonadio on Monday morning and confessed to having paid bribes.
La Nación reported that same as De Goycoechea, Calcaterra said the sums are inferior to those indicated, and assured that he only paid the bribes because he was pressured into “contributing to electoral campaigns.”
The construction company is also embroiled in the Argentine chapter of the investigation known as Lava Jato, the corruption case that took down the entire Brazilian political and economic establishment. Iecsa officials stand accused of – again – having paid bribes to be awarded state contracts. As a result of its delicate legal situation, Calcaterra sold Iecsa in March 2017 to one of the country’s main energy companies, Pampa Energía.
Speaking of Lava Jato, the information revealed by the notebooks could also have consequences in this case, as Argentine prosecutors could take advantage of some events described by Oscar Centeno to move forwards with it: the driver recounts meetings between government officials and representatives of Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, who have already admitted to having paid US $53 million in bribes in Argentina.
De Goycoechea, Sánchez Caballero, and Calcaterra joined the group previously formed only by Centeno, whose notebooks recount how he drove his former boss, Roberto Baratta, around the City and Province of Buenos Aires, taking and delivering bribes from business leaders working mostly with state contracts.
The plea bargain could play a key role in the case, working as an incentive for actors in the case to point their fingers at others who were higher up in the corruption scheme, especially former public officials. This was the case in the Lava Jato and in fact, Brazilian Federal Judge Sergio Moro, in charge of the case, spoke about the notebooks in an interview with Perfil CEO Jorge Fontevecchia this weekend. He said that even though he does not have more information than the one he’s read in newspapers, they describe “a M.O. that resembles what happened in the Lava Jato Operation.”
The Prosecutor’s Thoughts and a New Key Character
The news was not circumscribed to the judicial landscape. Over the weekend, La Nación published interviews with two of the case’s main actors: Federal Prosecutor Carlos Stornelli, in charge of the investigation along with Claudio Bonadio, and a key figure whose identity had remained unknown until that moment: Jorge Bacigalupo, a friend of Centeno’s and the person who gave the notebooks to Diego Cabot, after the driver entrusted them to him.
Both talked about their involvement in the case. Stornelli explained that “we were aware that a leak could cost us our lives, we could have been killed; I have never seen anything like it and I have worked in the courts for 40 years,” he said.
Stornelli went on to indicate that “Centeno provided information I can’t discuss, but clarified doubts we had. He added data that will prove to be key. It is an investigation where we will be able to get to the truth, and people will be held accountable,” added Stornelli, who anticipated he will be joined in the investigation by a colleague of his, Carlos Rívolo.
In another passage of the show, Cabot talked to Bacigalupo. A retired police officer, he said he suspected what kind of information the notebooks might have, but he decided to give them to him instead of a judicial official because he did not want to take a box with unknown content to a court. Moreover, he explained that he chose Cabot in particular because he had read a book he had written along with a colleague of his, Francisco Olivera, called Hablen con Julio (Talk to Julio De Vido), where they detailed actions taken by the Planning Minister during the Kirchner administrations.
According to the investigation, Centeno decided to give Bacigalupo the notebooks after his ex-wife, Hilda Horovitz, accused him of being involved in the corruption scheme, but in the context of another case. Fearing detention and the discovery of the notebooks, he gave them to Bacigalupo. And that’s when Cabot had access to them.
The judicial process continues to move forward. After the 16 former officials and business leaders who were either detained or turned themselves in and appeared before Bonadio last week, those suspects who were not initially put behind bars will start testifying today. The questionings will continue throughout the week and will conclude next Monday with former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Other high-profile suspects who will have to make their way to Bonadio’s office in the federal courthouses of Comodoro Py are: former Federal Judge Norberto Oyarbide, former AFI intelligence agency Oscar Parrilli, Julio De Vido, and former Cabinet Chief and current Senator Juan Manuel Abal Medina.
Stay tuned, there are many developments on the horizon.