An Argentine judge who on Monday ordered a raid of real estate offices belonging to the son of President Cristina Fernandez, on an ongoing probe into money laundering and tax elusion, was removed from the case on Thursday. A Federal court ruled the nullity of the order issued by Judge Claudio Bonadio after a presentation by Romina Mercado, niece of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and who also happens to figure as the head of the Hotesur company under investigation.
Of the three members of the Federal court that received the complaint, Judges Eduardo Freiler and Jorge Ballestero voted in favor of the nullity while Eduardo Farah voted against. The main argument was that the raid in the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz, at the offices of Maximo Kirchner was carried out by Metropolitan Police agents that are from Buenos Aires City.
The Monday raid was followed by a barrage of attacks and criticisms from several ministers, candidates and the official media which insisted that Judge Bonadio's order was backed with money from the Buenos Aires City government, which paid the logistical costs, accommodation and the salaries of the Metropolitan agents involved.
Buenos Aires City is ruled by conservative mayor Mauricio Macri, a presidential hopeful for October's election and the main opponent of incumbent candidate Daniel Scioli.
Bonadio, instead of sending Federal police officers as is custom in such cases, used members of the force created by City mayor Mauricio Macri argued the official media. However the non official media argued that if Bonadio had went along with the Federal Police, the news would have immediately filtered to President Cristina Fernandez.
In his ruling, Freiler said Bonadio’s actions in the case generated “grave harm to the defendants’ rights”. The magistrate draw attention to the controversial raid carried out in Santa Cruz province with Metropolitan police agents.
“Bonadio delays a decision related to his competence in the case, but issues an order to make several probes that affects people’s rights - I mean presentation orders directed to several private businesses and official organisms - that - again – had an unusual repercussion in massive media,” he said.
“Furthermore, I cannot avoid mentioning that the judge did not choose any of the federal security forces available to carry out the probes - Federal Police, Gendarmerie, Prefecture, Airport Security Police -, but instead he chose the Metropolitan Police, although the investigation was carried outside its jurisdiction (according to law 2894 of the Buenos Aires city Public Security code),” he added.
The Hotesur company which has as board members Maximo Kirchner and Romina Mercado, among other family members, includes several top level hotels in Santa Cruz province which allegedly were rented out, but hardly ever occupied, by Lazaro Baez, and Cristobal Lopez, both close friends of the Kirchner family and contractors of the Argentine state and the involved province.
Opposition lawmakers, mainly Margarita Stolbizer the complainant, allege this is a subtle way of delivering 'percentages' to the Kirchner family for the many civil works contracts and game licenses with which family friends were benefitted.
Having removed Bonadio means a new judge must be named for the case, and this will not only delay the matter, but most probably will fall on the desk on one of the several magistrates 'loyal' to Cristina Fernandez who has been purging the Judiciary to ensure she can leave office next December and rest peacefully in Santa Cruz with her basically 'empty but fully booked' chain of family hotels.