Wikileaks: Corruption rampant in Argentina says US, German, Spanish diplomats
Diplomats from United States, Germany, Spain and Finland repeatedly expressed their concerns about the level of corruption in Argentina in recent years according to the contents of several Wikileaks cables published in the Buenos Aires media.
In September 2007 US ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne says that with an almost perverse meaning “when Argentine officials argue ‘there’s money to be done in Argentina’, maybe the true message is that yes, there’s money to be done as long as you know how and with whom you can really make business deals”.
He also describes as “inefficient the legal system which makes it virtually impossible the investigation into sensitive and politically complex corruption cases”
Summarizing a 26 June 26 2007 meeting of US Ambassador Wayne with Dr. Abel Fleitas Ortiz Rozas, head of Argentina’s Office of Anticorruption (OA), the report says that Fleitas opened by describing some of the challenges Argentina faces in its fight against corruption: a general public tolerance of corruption, the lack of a culture of transparency, and a slow and cumbersome legal system that hinders his office's ability to successfully prosecute cases. He mentioned that, “while his office has brought many cases to trial, there are far fewer convictions”.
Another (2006) cable points out that coming to power (May 2003) after one of the worst economic, political and social crises in Argentina's history, President Nestor Kirchner has had a successful first three years in office. He is seen as a strong and decisive leader and is credited with restoring governability to the executive branch and promoting Argentina's impressive economic recovery.
But “although Kirchner started his presidency by strengthening the independence of the Supreme Court, Kirchner has since then failed to strengthen Argentina's institutional democracy, and in many cases has weakened it. Kirchner's reliance on presidential decrees, manipulation of the electoral system, tightened control over the Judiciary, and pursuit of permanent super budgetary powers have enhanced presidential power at the expense of Argentina's already weak institutional framework”.
“Kirchner campaigned in 2003 on a strong anti-corruption message and his first Justice Minister, Gustavo Beliz, championed the cause of rooting out official corruption, but the government has placed less emphasis on fighting corruption since Beliz was fired in 2004”.
Another cable mentions the NGO Centre for the Study and Prevention of Economic Crimes, which recorded that corruption cases in Argentina took 14 years, on average, to be resolved and only 15 out of 750 cases tried, resulted in convictions.
Finally a May 2009 indicates that Manuel Garrido, Argentina's top District Attorney in the National Prosecutor's Office for Administrative Investigations kept a frantic level of activity in launching over 100 investigations, “but he did not obtain a single conviction in over five years”.
In Mid March he resigned from the FIA after five years as its head. He was replaced by a close Kirchner family friend Julio Vitobello known for organizing soccer matches at the presidential residency over weekends.
In a May 2009 cable the US embassy points out that Garrido had distinguished himself as the prosecutor who filed or advanced the most high-level corruption cases implicating administration officials.
Garrido had an important role in the following cases: the alleged manipulation of the National Statistical Agency (INDEC) by Secretary of Internal Commerce Guillermo Moreno; the Skanska corruption allegations; the bag of money found in the office of then-Economy Minister Felisa Micelli; the alleged illicit enrichment of Nestor Kirchner and, separately, of the former debt negotiator Daniel Marx; the overpricing of public works contracts; the installation of electricity cables in southern Argentina by Electroingenieria, a company with close ties to the Kirchners which employs the son of Planning Minister De Vido; the management of official government advertising by Press Secretary Enrique Albistur; train repairs by Transport Secretary Ricardo Jaime; and the decision process for granting highway concessions.
Garrido also filed several more criminal complaints: Claudio Uberti, the former toll road regulator who was fired in the Valijagate scandal (money from Venezuela’s Chavez for Cristina Kirchner’s campaign), and Jorge Simeonoff in the Planning Ministry of administrative irregularities and presumed collusion with the highway construction firm Coviares in contract negotiations.
The other two cases accuse the Executive Branch of irregularities in the management of campaign financing -- specifically regarding the broadcasting of political events on a private cable network using public funds -- and presumed irregularities and in another highway concession with the firm Caminos del Valle SA.
One of the cables makes a special consideration of mentioning the Kirchners' home province of Santa Cruz and an investigation of a case against members of the administration and their allies in the business sector, which remains stalled.
“The case focuses on the preferential sale of large properties in Santa Cruz to approximately 50 top administration officials, including the Kirchners, and pro-administration businesspeople during the final years of the tenure of Nestor Mendez, the mayor of El Calafate from 1995 to 2007. The investigation is in the hands of prosecutor Natalia Mercado, who is the daughter of Minister of Social Development Alicia Kirchner and niece of former president Nestor Kirchner. The case focuses on the purchase of municipal land by the Kirchners and close associates, including Rudy Ulloa, Lazaro Baez, Carlos Sancho, Fulvio Madaro, Natalia Mercado herself, Romina Mercado, Julio Ciurca and Ricardo Etchegaray. Nestor Kirchner reportedly re-sold two hectares (20,000 square meters) to a Chilean investment group for US$2 million -- forty times what he paid after less than two years.
In May 2008 the Secretary General of the Spanish cabinet, Bernardino León is quoted in a cable saying that “Spanish companies in Argentina were highly concerned with the populist emphasis of the Argentine government, political polarization and the extended level of corruption” among the Kirchner network.
In February 2008 German ambassador Wolf Rolf Schumacher also expressed concern with the attitude of close members of the Cristina Kirchner administration towards cases or acts of corruption.
“The CEO of a German corporation went to see the Federal Planning Minister, Julio De Vido to complain because one of his trusted advisors had gone to see him asking for a kickback to which the CEO had refused. De Vido showed no interest in finding out the name of the officer involved and instead recommended the CEO that next time something like that happens to have the incident filmed and taped”, the German diplomat revealed to US officials in Buenos Aires.