An Argentine powerful public works contractor from the province of Santa Cruz and close associate of the Kirchner family, Lazaro Baez was arrested on Tuesday afternoon when he arrived in his private Lear Jet to a Buenos Aires airport. Considered one of the wealthiest men in the southern province, political turf of the Kirchner family, and with an 'unrivaled' talent for business, Baez is a main suspect of an investigation into alleged money laundering.
Baez was ordered to appear before Judge Sebastian Casanello on April 7 and his son on April 8, but the magistrate decided to rush their testimonies for Wednesday since prosecutor Guillermo Marijuán is scheduled to travel abroad in search of further evidence in the state of Nevada, where apparently the Baez family have deposited millions of dollars, in secret accounts manipulated by the notorious Fonseca & Mossack investment company in Panama.
The businessman who less than twenty years ago was a simple bank cashier in Rio Gallegos, but a trusted friend of former president Nestor Kirchner, built a construction and real estate empire winning virtually all public works contracts in the province, and a chain of hotels allegedly in association with Kirchner's widow, ex president Cristina Fernandez.
According to the Federal Police, Baez, some close associates and his accountant Daniel Pérez Garín was being discreetly followed, fearing they could attempt to abandon Argentina. Probably the fact Baez flew off in his Lear Jet could have rushed plans. Judge Casanello immediately issued a national and international warrant against Baez.
However Perez Garin was arrested at his home in Buenos Aires and both are spending the night in prescient jails after complying with identification procedure at the prosecutor's office. On Wednesday they will be questioned at court.
The whole operation including the arrest at the airport triggered a massive media coverage, which followed Baez while he was transported handcuffed, with access to photographers and television crews, to downtown Buenos Aires.
The main piece of evidence so far which has become public is a 2012 video, at an office in Buenos Aires where Baez son Martin, Perez Garin and other associates are seen counting US dollars, approximately 5.1 million. The office, or a cave in the Argentine black money exchange business jargon, was known as La Rosadita in reference to Casa Rosada, Government House, and was located in the posh quarter of Puierto Madero. The existence of such a place, when dealing with dollars was banned, was no mystery and had been aired in a television investigative report, but in the intimidating years of Cristina Fernandez, not even Judge Casanello advanced with the case.
The prosecution claims that Baez through his son Marin on 02 November 2012 and other undetermined dates introduced the sum of US$ 5.1million to the office under the business named of SGI Argentina SA. The cash sum was then dissimulated, its origin and owners of the non declared money erased to avoid traceability and thus introduce it into the financial circuit as originated in licit sources.
Since Baez owns 95% Austral Construction, his dominant public works company, and the other 5% belongs to Martin, it is believed those funds have an illicit profit origin, through apocryphal bills, (which surfaced in Bahia Blanca) and thus a fiscal fraud has been committed. The suspicion that the money is illicit also originates in the fact that such a huge amount in cash was transported during the so called dollar clamp and the place chosen to hide and dissimulate it was through one of the so called caves.
The Judge also argued as a proven fact that the money had been taken to the SGI office with aircraft belonging to Top Air, of which Austral Construction holds a 49% stake.