Former president Mauricio Macri will miss a hearing this week in which he was to be questioned about alleged spying on relatives of 44 sailors who died in the sinking of the ARA San Juan Navy submarine, his party confirmed Wednesday.
The Cambiemos leader, who led Argentina from 2015 to 2019, cannot attend a court session scheduled for Thursday because he is out of the country keeping "international commitments," and he will be back in late October, said Patricia Bullrich, the president of Macri's PRO party.
"For this reason, I trust that the judge will know how to understand the situation that has been generated with this imminent summons and that he will bear in mind the permanent vocation of respect and submission to the republican institutions that former president Mauricio Macri assumes," she wrote in a letter to Dolores Federal Judge Martín Bava.
Bava subpoenaed Macri, 62, last week to testify about his role in the alleged espionage. The former president, whose party forms part of the opposition Juntos coalition, was in the United States when he got the order to testify.
The centre-right leader is currently in Miami. In an Instagram post on Wednesday, he revealed that he had accepted an offer to teach classes on "political leadership" at the Adam Smith Center for Economic Freedom at Florida International University, an institute headed by Carlos Díaz-Rosillo, a former advisor to ex-US president Donald Trump.
When he returns to Argentina, the former businessman will be barred from leaving the country again at Judge Bava's request.
In her letter to the court, Bullrich asked the magistrate to avoid "any hasty decisions" that could "increase the noise" that the "untimely summons" has generated in the media.
Background to the case
The ARA San Juan submarine disappeared in November 2017. When it was found just over a year later, it was at a depth of more than 900 metres in a desolate area of the South Atlantic, some 460 kilometres southeast of the Patagonian city of Comodoro Rivadavia. All 44 crew members died in the tragedy. The submarine had been crushed from an implosion apparently caused by a technical fault. Authorities decided against attempting to refloat it.
The espionage case began with a criminal complaint by the Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI) Director Cristina Caamaño, who uncovered evidence indicating that relatives of the late crew were spied on during the Macri administration’s time in office.
Family members of the sailors told investigators they were followed and wiretapped, filmed and intimidated into abandoning any claims related to the incident.
Macri is accused of ordering, allowing, organising and executing the "systematic carrying out of intelligence tasks expressly prohibited by law" between December 2017 and the end of 2018. He could face a potential prison sentence of between three and ten years if he is found guilty of violating Argentina’s National Intelligence Law, although in this case aggravating circumstances could also be considered.
Judge Bava has also ordered the prosecution of former Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI) directors Gustavo Arribas and Silvia Majdalani, who reported to Macri, on charges they carried out “illegal espionage” on the relatives, who were desperate to know the fate of their loved ones.
Both Arribas and Majdalani deny the allegations against them.
In March, two former military chiefs were sanctioned over the sinking. Retired admiral Marcelo Srur was handed "45 days of arrest" for having given an "incomplete" picture to the Defence Ministry of what happened.
Claudio Villamide, the former commander of the Submarine Force, was dismissed after he was found guilty of a "lack of care and neglect of the troops and equipment under his charge."
Two active captains were given 20 and 30-day detentions and the former head of a naval base in the south of the country 15 days.