Former federal judge Norberto Oyarbide testified today before federal judge Claudio Bonadio after finding himself embroiled in one of the greatest corruption scandals to ever break in Argentina. The scandal revolves around the discovery of eight notebooks that meticulously record bribe payments from business leaders to public officials in exchange for lucrative public works projects between between 2008 and 2015 during the Néstor and Cristina Kirchner administrations, culminating in the detention of at least 18 people on August 1st.
Oyarbide is known in Argentina known for having overseen high-profile cases with strong political repercussions, some of which involved senior political officials of the government of former presidents Carlos Ménem and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Throughout his career, the former judge had no less than 47 separate complaints of corruption and misconduct leveled against him. Much of these criticisms accused Oyarbide of opening corruption cases against politicians, only to suspend them in exchange for political favors. The judge ultimately presented President Mauricio Macri with his resignation to avoid facing a political trial of his own.
While Oyarbide was not one of the officials or businessmen whose arrest was ordered by Bonadio on August 1st, he was one of many implicated figures who was called in for questioning by the judge. Also called in for questioning were Senator and former President Cristina Kirchner—around whom this scandal revolves—and former Planning Minister Julio de Vido, who is currently currently in pre-trial arrest himself since last year for a separate corruption case.
The testimony schedule for those called in for questioning by Judge Bonadio is as follows:
- August 7th:
- Jorge Mayoral, former Mining Secretary
- Javier Fernández, former head of the National Audit Office and judicial operator
- Rudy Ulloa, former driver
- August 8th:
- Oscar Parrilli, former head of the Federal Intelligence Agency
- Norberto Oyarbide, former federal judge
- August 9th:
- Néstor Otero, businessman
- Juan Carlos Lascurain, businessman
- José María Olazagasti, former private secretary of De Vido
- Juan Manuel Abal Medina, former chief of staff
- August 10th:
- Julio De Vido, former Minister of Federal Planning, currently detained in Marcos Paz prison for another investigation
- August 13th:
- Cristina Kirchner, Senator and former president
Oyarbide is mentioned in the infamous notebooks several times, and directly implicated in the bribery scheme. However, during his testimony this morning—which lasted over an hour and a half—the former judge fervently denied receiving any bribes by the Kirchner administrations or their allies to sway his resolutions.
Minutes before leaving the court after his testimony, Oyarbide spoke to journalists that had gathered outside, staying true to his generally confrontational style of approaching the press. In response to their questions about his role in the ongoing corruption scandal being investigated, Oyarbide immediately rejected what was written in the notebooks, saying that the dates for the supposed meetings during which the exchange of bribes took place are completely false, and that there was never enough evidence to call him in for questioning in the first place.
Oyarbide emphasized that he’d never even met De Vido, saying “I only ever saw him on television.” He did, however, admit that he knew Roberto Barrata, the former secretary of Coordination and Management in the Ministry of Planning. Barrata is at the center of the scandal, with millions of dollars in dirty money allegedly passing through his office, and was the highest-profile official arrested on August 1st.
De Vido also admitted to being familiar with Barrata’s former secretary, who was arrested the same day. However, while Oyarbide admits to knowing them, he adamantly denies ever setting up any meetings with either one. “I never received any bribes from them,” he emphasized.
Before leaving his house this morning, Oyarbide appeared confrontational and uncomfortable before a group of journalists that had gathered outside the door of his home in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Recoleta, where he lives with his mother. Brandishing a black umbrella, he waved it at the reporters who swarmed to question him, saying “No, no, no, I won’t speak to anyone like this,” adding with a smile, “whoever misbehaves, I’ll club you over the head.”
When he was asked to give more details about the case, and whether what was written about him in the notebooks was true, he said: “That, I’ll be speaking to the judge about.” While smiling at first, Oyarbide became increasingly frustrated by their questions. No longer smiling, he called the journalists “a flock of parrots” as he got into his car.
Upon his arrival at the courts, he turned to more melodramatic tactics, saying: “I’m going to use my own chest to stop the bullets,” referring to his own characterization of the ongoing corruption trial as a political witch hunt.