Argentine Federal judge Claudio Bonadio will present a formal request to Congress to strip ex president and Senator Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of her parliamentary immunity. Bonadio's move against CFK, for which she risks immediate arrest, is part of an investigation into an alleged giant bribery and corruption ring that spanned over a decade of the Kirchner couple's rule and involves high-profile businesspeople, politicians and magistrates.
Fernández de Kirchner has been ordered to appear before Bonadio on August 13 for questioning.
On Wednesday, twelve people were arrested as police continued to search for four others. In total, 18 people have been called to testify, including the former president and former judge Norberto Oyarbide, and the head for decades of the Argentine Chamber of Construction Carlos Wagner, who had excellent relations with the Kirchners and implemented the ring to handout public works contracts and collect donations.
Among those who were detained is Roberto Baratta, a former Argentine government official who previously served as coordination and administrative secretary at the federal Planning Ministry. Baratta is considered by many to have been the ‘right-hand man’ of Julio De Vido, a key Kirchnerite figure who headed the ministry for over a decade and is now imprisoned on corruption charges.
The current investigation centers on a collection of eight notebooks, which were acquired by journalists at the national daily La Nación some months ago, copied and subsequently passed to federal prosecutor Carlos Stronelli.
In the investigation, the hypothesis is illicit association, the prosecutor in charge of the case, Carlos Stornelli, told Radio La Red in an interview.
We investigate facts and people who appear suspicious or involved will be investigated, [but] I can not anticipate the consequences, he said when quizzed about the possibility of more former Kirchnerite officials being arrested.
The detailed notebooks belong to Oscar Centeno, a contracted driver who was assigned to Baratta by the federal Planning Ministry.
Centeno, a former Argentine army sergeant, who is now under arrest, admitted to have kept a series of detailed entries related to his time working for the Argentine government, though he is not responsible for the notebooks coming to light.
Centeno’s wife, according to reports, has also given testimony to prosecutors, detailing how former husband delivered and distributed money and how their income soared well above expectations considering his role was as a chauffeur.
Centeno has pleaded to become a protected witness in exchange for information, while all of the other arrested so far have refused to testify, arguing they were not aware of the accusations.
Bonadio had previously made a request to Congress to strip CFK of her immunity in December 2017, in the context of the AMIA bombing cover-up investigation. Now as then the Peronist opposition in congress, although split, have closed ranks when it comes to stripping immunity. Mostly fear it could be an unwanted first time that could open the gates for a Congress whose members are not precisely totally transparent.
However the fact that the cream of the Argentine public works contractors are under investigation, including a cousin of president Mauricio Macri, means government will have to review all the works and contractors, or not, given the extent of the investigation.
On the other hand why a contracted chauffeur who was linked passively to the of system of collecting bribe money kept such a meticulous record of his movements is hard to understand. According to his fellow workers at the ministry that was his obsession, but it also could have been a safeguard against losing the job, but ultimately it was his family life, two women and thirteen children that first uncovered the system he was working for, and the money involved.
Anyhow the tin of worms still has to be opened, but what is evident is that the corruption ring web was not limited to the public works contractors club and their subcontractors, the Argentine Executive or Congress but also to the Federal Justice system and why not foreign interests which felt they were systematically left out for not accepting the rules and terms to operate in Argentina.