With 66 votes in favor and none against, the Senate unanimously approved on Wednesday the request from Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio to raid the properties belonging to former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, in the context of the “notebooks scandal” case.
The procedures are set to take place on Thursday morning and will be conducted on two houses she has in the province of Santa Cruz – one in El Calafate and the other in the capital city of Río Gallegos – and an apartment in the City of Buenos Aires, in the neighborhood of Recoleta.
The vote’s outcome was not unexpected, as the former President had already requested through a letter that the members of her caucus, Unidad Ciudadana, also vote in favor of the request. In last week’s session, those on the floor that were ready to vote in favor of the authorization – mainly senators from Cambiemos and some from the Peronist Partido Justicialista (PJ) – fell one senator short from garnering enough support to approve the request.
However, Kirchner sought to impose certain conditions in order to “guarantee” that the raids only gather potential evidence for the case, including that police forces “use certain technical elements” so Judge Bonadio “does not break anything” during the procedure.
The conditions were rejected by the senate and criticized by lawyers working on the media, who explained the request has no legal grounds as neither the neither the Constitution nor the Criminal Procedural Code make any reference to the possibility that someone other than the judge investigating the case – or the prosecutor, if the judge so decides – has any say in how a raid should proceed.
Even though the voting was a mere bureaucratic process at that point, the session lasted more than eight hours as almost 30 senators ended up delivering speeches to address the situation. The former President was one of them and, as she has already done in numerous occasions – especially since the surfacing of the “notebooks scandal” she said her legal problems have been orchestrated by her political enemies and executed by their allies in the justice system with the objective of deflecting attention from the issue that matters the most: the dire economic situation the country is going through.
“This is an instrument of persecution and banning of popular leaders. Bonadio is an instrument, a puppet,” she began. “I am not the problem for this government. You and your awful policies are the problem,” she added.
Moreover, Kirchner cast a shadow of doubt on the journalistic investigation that led to the “notebooks” case, asking her peers if they “really believe the Patria Contratista [a term used to describe a select group of companies that are awarded most public contracts, which has a negative connotation due to the suspicion they pay bribes and kickbacks to get them] began in 2003 and there was a meeting, like a business leader said, to which he was called by a minister who told them how the system worked?”
Do you actually believe that? We are in an Argentina presided by Mauricio Macri, son of Franco, cousin of Ángelo Calcaterra [who was also charged in the case and took a plea bargain] and best friends with Nicky Caputo [another business leader who used to be awarded a large number of public works],” she added.
The former President went on to say that she is “not the problem,” and that “the problem is all of you,” and assured that the myriad indictments weighing on her aims at forging her to “regret,” perhaps having been President and, in her eyes, challenged the country’s concentrated powers. “No, I don’t regret it. If anything, I regret not having been smart enough or been able to reach consensus to convince and persuade [the population] about what we were doing,” she said.
In another passage of her speech, Kirchner directly targeted the President of the Senate and Vice President of Argentina, Gabriela Michetti, reminding her that a bag full of cash was found in her home. “Did someone raid your house? For a similar reason, an economy minister had to resign,” she said.
The first episode she made reference to took place in 2016, when burglars broke into Michetti’s house on November 22 – the same day when Macri won the runoff elections – and stole AR$245,000 and US$50,000. Michetti was heavily criticized for not disclosing the robbery to the public and questions began to emerge about where that money came from. In a statement, Michetti insisted that the money was declared to the tax authorities and sought to explain the origin and destination of those funds. She was ultimately acquitted in April 2017 by Federal Judge Ariel Lijo.
The second involved Felisa Miceli, who was the Economy Minister during the first presidency of Néstor Kirchner and left her post in 2007 after press reported the finding of a bag filled with cash in her office’s bathroom. She was convicted for defrauding the state in 2014 and sentenced to three years in prison. She did not spend time behind bars because in Argentina, criminals only have to serve time if they are convicted to more than three years in prison.
Michetti did not respond to her on the floor, but took to Twitter to do so. “My only asset is the house I have in the City of Buenos Aires’ neighborhood of Balvanera, in which I have been living for 25 years. Reality speaks for itself,” wrote the Vice President.
Todo mi patrimonio es la casa en el barrio Balvanera de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, en la que vivo hace 25 años. La realidad habla por sí sola.
— Gabriela Michetti (@gabimichetti) August 23, 2018
The former President also clashed with the head of the Partido Justicialista caucus, Miguel Ángel Pichetto. Although implicitly, she indicated he was one of the political actors behind the “persecution” against her, saying she could not ignore “there is intense friendly fire behind this.” “And I am certain that if I am struck by a bolt of lightning tomorrow, with my ashes as my only remains, many would not get enough votes to become President. At that moment, the Senate’s live feed camera focused on Pichetto, who has already announced his intention of running for President next year.
The head of the PJ caucus was part of the Frente Para la Victoria until the end of 2015, but broke with the party a few months after Daniel Scioli’s defeat in the Presidential election. Along with the senators who followed him, he argued he sought to become a more-dialogue prone opposition than the FpV. Kirchner and Pichetto have been at odds ever since.
Pichetto was quick to pick up the glove, requesting the floor and compelling the former President to listen to his speech. “Let’s not play the role of victims,” he said. Pichetto went on to defend his decision of approving the raids since day one and, ironically, told Kirchner to stay calm, because citizens can run for office until they have a firm conviction against them. “Rest assured, you will probably be able to run for office in 2019,” he said. Kirchner did not look at Pichetto at any point during his speech.