Update: Diego Cabot, the journalist who broke the “notebooks scandal” story, received access to and published the most relevant extracts of former public official Claudio Uberti’s statement last night.
Uberti, who between 2003 and 2007 was the head of the government agency tasked with overseeing the private companies administering different routes and highways in the country, admitted to having engaged in corrupt activities during his time in office and pointed his finger at former Presidents Néstor and Cristina Kirchner. According to testimony, he said he would bring Néstor bags filled with cash from bribes paid by the sector’s business leaders, and that Cristina was present on several of those occasions.
The former official recounted that he started working for the Kirchners in Santa Cruz, when Néstor governed the province. Before moving up to the national administration alongside him, he coordinated the electoral campaign team of Kirchner’s party in the southern province.
Once in the Casa Rosada, Uberti recalled that then-Planning Minister Julio De Vido explained he would be in charge of the aforementioned agency, and that he had to start “raising money for politics.” “Each month, I had to get US $150,000 from every company,” he explained in his testimony before Federal Prosecutor Carlos Stornelli. A company administering two highways is called Grupo Abertis; Cabot indicated that until 2001, one of the companies part of the Macri group conglomerate owned 21 percent of the Grupo’s stock. “With time, the percentage reduced and was limited to seven percent. Finally, in May 2017, [President] Mauricio Macri’s family sold the remaining portion and left the business,” explains Cabot.
Uberti went on to indicate that the bags were delivered to either the Olivos Presidential Residence, the President’s office at the Casa Rosada, and sometimes to De Vido’s apartment in the City of Buenos Aires. In another passage of his statement, the former official assured he – as well as most other people part of the scheme – was mistreated Néstor Kirchner, and detailed several anecdotes to illustrate so. Once, he said, Néstor told him off for delivering a bag full of Argentine pesos, rather than US dollars. And several other times he was reprimanded for having collected “little money.” He also described different situations that involved violence against then-officials for reasons such as a delay in the delivering of newspapers, or for no reason whatsoever.
In his testimony, Uberti also described his interaction with business leaders involved in the corruption scheme, both local and foreign. He focused particularly on the contract to build the General Belgrano power plant in November 2006: the consortium that was awarded the public work was comprised by German Company Siemens, Spanish Duro Felguera and Argentine Electroingeniería, whose CEO Gerardo Ferreyra is already in pre-trial arrest and is one of the few business leaders who denied having paid bribes and has not taken a plea bargain.
There are other companies whose names have not yet come to light, but are likely to be investigated as Uberti indicated that “in the East [likely referring to Asia] they found companies willing to inflate bills,” a key element at the time of embezzling money.
Uberti was ejected from the government in 2007, as a result of being the government official associated with the Antonini Wilson case (see below).
Today’s episode of the “notebooks scandal” featured two new suspects taking plea bargains. But one of them, Claudio Uberti, has a particular characteristic different to his predecessors: he is the first former official of the Kirchner administrations to have done so.
Uberti had been on the run officially since last Friday, when Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio concluded that, given the evidence gathered in the notebooks written by Oscar Centeno, and testimonies from other suspects, he was part of the corruption scheme whereby business leaders paid kickbacks from inflated state contracts to public officials to be awarded public works.
His name is also included in other cases investigating potential corruption during the Kirchner administration, especially those involving alleged shady deals with Venezuela during the Hugo Chávez years. In fact, Uberti was accused of running a “parallel embassy” in the Caribbean country, tasked with conducting these deals.
Perhaps the most illustrative example is the fact that Uberti was one of the passengers on the plane in which Venezuelan Guido Antonini Wilson transported an infamous briefcase filled with US $800,000, which, when questioned about after failing to declare it to Customs, said were destined to financing Cristina Kirchner’s 2007 presidential campaign.
This event caused a political crisis in both Argentina and Venezuela. But the investigation that was opened as a result of the event was recently closed without people sentenced, after exceeding the statute of limitations.
According to Clarín, Uberti admitted to being part of the corruption scheme until his departure from the government in 2007, saying he was “a soldier loyal to [late President Néstor] Kirchner and [former Planning Minister] Julio De Vido.” After hearing his testimony, Judge Bonadio approved the plea bargain and released Uberti from pre-trial arrest. Most of the information he provided has not been made public, as the case file is under strict secrecy.
The other business leader who requested a plea bargain today is Juan José Chediack former head of the Argentine Construction Chamber – same as Carlos Wagner, who also did so last Friday.