Argentina: Yet Another Corruption Scandal

Argentina has been gripped by reports of alleged corruption under the previous Kirchner administrations. The extent and scale of the allegations made and the number of prominent businessmen who have sought plea bargains have surprised even the most cynical commentators.

The scandal started in August with La Nacion’s publication of eight notebooks kept by Oscar Centeno, a driver for Roberto Baratta, deputy Minister for Planning and Public Works under the Kirchners (and a close adviser to both Nestor and Cristina). These notebooks meticulously recorded the journeys to prominent businessmen and the amounts received from them in cash between 2005 and 2015.

Investigations are being pursued by Federal Judge, Claudio Bonadio. So far, some 26 people have been arrested: 15 senior businessmen and 2 government officials have sought plea bargains under the 2016 ‘ley de arrepentido’ (law of repentance). One such – Aldo Roggio, head of Metrovia and Urquiza railways – admitted, for example, that he paid 5% of the government subsidies received back to the Kirchners.

Cristina de Kirchner is reportedly implicated in all this. She was summoned to appear before the court in mid-August but declined to answer questions, claiming that the allegations were politically motivated and false. She joined her colleague Senators in allowing her immunity to be lifted sufficiently to permit the search of three of her homes, since she claimed that there was nothing to hide. But she is otherwise protected from prosecution by virtue of her immunity as a Senator – and with a Peronist majority, it is unlikely that the Senate would remove her immunity.

That said her popularity ratings dipped to 31% (below Macri’s 39%) – and Macri may well recognise that Cristina is better suspected of gross corruption than imprisoned for it. Her leadership of the Peronist movement is still highly divisive, giving Macri a possible advantage in the run-up to the Presidential elections on 27 October 2019, despite his economic woes. President Macri was elected in December 2015 in part for a promise to rid Argentina of corruption. So far, he has been hailed for his strong stance on such matters.

In separate corruption cases, Vice-President Amado Boudou (2011-15) was jailed for nearly 6 years and banned for life from elective office for illicit enrichment (he had been Economics Minister in Cristina’s administration in 2009 -11). Former Planning Minister, Julio de Vido, was jailed in 2017 for taking bribes in return for awarding public contracts during Cristina’s Presidency. So too was his deputy, José Lopez, who was caught red-handed throwing bags containing $9m in cash and valuables into a convent; he has since been released under a plea bargain for co-operating with the prosecution in the current cases.

None of this is as bad as in Brazil, where former President Lula da Silva was jailed for taking bribes amounting to billions of dollars. But if the current prosecutions are successful, it will shine a poor light on the level of corruption in Argentina under the Kirchners.