The Alberto Fernández administration on Wednesday revoked a decree that would create a presidential agency for witness protection, which was signed by former president Mauricio Macri in the final days of his presidency.
Last Wednesday’s decree restores witness protection programmes to the Justice Ministry, where they had belonged for 16 years until Macri’s emergency decree (DNU 795/19) just a dozen days before leaving office. Fernández, when president-elect, had criticised the move at the time, while also complaining that he had not been consulted.
Macri’s sense of urgency last November had been prompted by fears for the safety of whistle-blowers in Kirchnerite graft trials once Fernández took office the following month, perceiving the need to create a special and autonomous agency to keep these witnesses out of the clutches of the Justice Ministry (with some of Macri’s more hard-line supporters forecasting the introduction of a “Revenge Ministry” under a Frente de Todos administration).
But Decree 168/2020, appearing last Thursday in the Official Gazette, said: “The exceptional circumstances making it impossible to follow normal procedure and thus justifying the adoption of an exceptional measure such as an emergency decree did not exist ... especially when the programme functioned without variation for over 16 years until a few days before the end of the previous government’s term.”
The witness protection programme thus reverts to its original institutional design under the Justice Ministry.
Macri’s decree argued that the whistleblowers in the Kirchnerite corruption trials had testified against crimes committed by officials (potentially returning to office in the new government) and thus warranted “special protective measures” to guarantee their safety.
In addition to the agency, last November’s decree (drafted by then-justice minister Germán Garavano) stipulated the creation of a consultative committee chaired by the head of the Criminal Cassation Court and including a representative of the Attorney-General’s office in order to propose a director for the agency.
Prior to decreeing the presidential agency, the Macri government had tried to place witness protection under the control of the judiciary but to no avail. The decree’s legitimacy was immediately questioned by four Cassation Court judges.
Ahead of Macri’s decree such whistleblowers as former public works secretary José López (who notoriously tossed bags containing some US$9 million over a convent wall in mid-2016), the chauffeur Oscar Centeno (who first produced the famous “Cuadernos” copybooks, the cornerstone for charges of Kirchnerite corruption) and the financier Leonardo Fariña among others had expressed fears for their safety.
The original system is based on Law 25,764, approved by Congress in August, 2003, and is designed to protect witnesses and whistleblowers “making a substantial contribution to federal court investigations (including drug-trafficking, kidnapping for ransom, terrorism, crimes against committed in the period 1976/1983 and human-trafficking) and finding themselves at risk as a result.”