Buenos Aires Times

opinion and analysis CORRUPTION AND IMPUNITY

No mercy for the wicked

The hypocrisy of our courts is only matched by our double standards as society, which is fuelled by media outlets and, increasingly, Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday 31 March, 2018
The Judiciary continues to send contradictory signals.
The Judiciary continues to send contradictory signals. Foto:PABLO TEMES

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Trust is generated by consistency, good judgment based on common sense, and a general feeling of transparency of motives. Thus, when the general trust of a person or a portion of society is gained, extraordinary feats can occur, as the collective has suspended their disbelief, choosing instead to have faith. Moses convinced the Israelites to follow him through the desert of Paran on their way to the promised land, leaving behind slavery by parting the waters of the Red Sea. Even though many doubted him, Moses based his leadership on the trust of his people. In modern-day Brazil, Judge Sergio Moro has successfully led the Lava Jato (“Car Wash”) corruption investigations, despite intense political pressure, and even secured the conviction of former president Inácio Lula da Silva — the current front-runner in these year’s elections — and indirectly the impeachment of then-president Dilma Rousseff.

Unfortunately, Argentina suffers in the exact opposite situation. The Judiciary continues to send contradictory signals, first embarking on a witch-hunt of blatantly corrupt actors of the Kirchnerite years through the controversial use of preventive prison — an approach questioned repeatedly in these pages — apparently playing to Mauricio Macri and his administration’s playbook. And now, to the public’s outrage, it is freeing up a host of them — including former vice-president Amado Boudou and businessman Cristóbal López — in shady circumstances. Sowing mistrust and feeding sound theories of corruption in the branch of government that is supposed to act as a counterbalance to the world of politics is an Argentine classic that we, as a society, are responsible for and must extricate from the root if we wish to escape the century-old decadence we appear destined to repeat time and time again.

The hypocrisy of our courts is only matched by our double standards as society, which is fuelled by our media outlets and, increasingly, Facebook and Twitter. The case of Cristó- bal López is a good example: arrested alongside his supposed business partner Fabián de Sousa, López was freed last week in a split decision by an appellate’s court, where a third judge from a separate district was called in to break the tie. The judge, Eduardo Farah, is now being investigated after an accusation by Congresswoman Elisa Carrió regarding business dealings between family members and former directors of López’s Casino Puerto Madero. Farah was asked to break the tie by Judge Jorge Ballestero — the richest member of the Comodoro Py federal courthouse, who saw his declared net worth jump 183 percent in his last filing — who had voted in favour of liberating the defendants. Furthermore, the accusation against the indicted was changed from “defrauding the state” to “misappropriation of taxes,” giving López and de Sousa the opportunity to gain access to a monetary settlement that could resolve his culpability, instead of jail time.

Macri was outraged, as were his supporters. López is most probably guilty. He is accused of failing to pay eight billion pesos in fuel taxes at Oil Combustibles, his biggest company, with which he and de Sousa went on a buying spree that allowed them to build up Grupo Indalo into a mega conglomerate. A close friend of Néstor Kirchner, López’s tax avoidance — which is estimated at 17 billion pesos including penalties and interest — was possible thanks to the good grace of Ricardo Echegaray, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s tax man at the AFIP tax agency, who is also being prosecuted in this case, among other charges. With that money, López made sure to pay his dues, renting empty rooms at the beautiful Hotel Alto Calafate, among other properties owned by the Kirchner family. Along with Patagonian businessman Lázaro Báez, currently behind bars, their empty rooms represented 86 percent of the revenue generated by Los Sauces SA — one of the Kirchner family’s holding companies — between 2009 and 2015. Talk about a foolproof business model.

Adding to the current president’s outrage, former VP Boudou and his frontman José María Nuñez Carmona were recently freed by an appellate’s court too, overturning a decision to remand them in custody in the case surrounding their illicit acquisition of the Ciccone money printing plant, while Kirchnerist strongman Carlos Zannini — the powerful legal and technical secretary of both Néstor and Cristina — and piquetero Luis D’Elía walked free last week in the context of “high treason” case related to the memorandum of understanding with Iran, alleged by the late AMIA Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman. Oh yes, and let’s not forget Roberto Baratta, the right-hand man of the eternal Julio De Vido (who could be the next to walk) freed earlier this month by Judge Ballestero and his colleague Martín Irurzun.

In all of these cases, the Macri administration secured brownie points with large portions of society who, sick of the rampant corruption of the K decade, wanted to see heads roll. CFK was their wet dream, but seeing the likes of Boudou and De Vido being dragged into prison wearing a bulletproof vest and a helmet satiated their bloodthirst. It didn’t matter that the preventive prison sentences were being applied by the same judges that had shelved cases against these same defendants for years, nor that its flimsy legal stature could be easily overturned. No mercy for the wicked. The same indifference is shown when journalist Luis Majul publishes leaked phone conversations between Cristina and her lapdog Oscar Parrilli, which do nothing more than reveal how vulgar and aggressive CFK is in private. If we are tapping the phones of the bad guys and then publicly humiliating them, so be it, right? It will never happen to us...

More troubling is the fact that Argentine judges and prosecutors haven’t gotten their hands on the Lava Jato documents, which the Brazilian Judiciary has tried to hand over. As journalist Hugo Alconada Mon tweeted, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has been forced to resign, as has as an Ecuadorian Vice President, a Panamanian ex-president, and Brazil’s Lula is on the brink of jail, where several prominent businessmen including billionaires Marcelo Odebrecht and Andre Esteves already are. Just in the state of Paraná, Judge Moro’s team has prosecuted 1,765 people and recovered R$38.1 billion (US$11.5 billion) from corruption.

And here? Absolutely nothing.

It’s time to wake up.

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