In the last full week of a lengthy judicial career, Federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral on Monday committed former National Highways director Javier Iguacel and former Treasury prosecutor Bernardo Saravia Frías to trial for fraudulent administration.
The charges relate to presumed irregularities in the awarding of highway toll concessions during the 2015-2019 Mauricio Macri administration, in which the two officials served. Canicoba Corral also slapped a lien of half a billion pesos on the assets of each, but chose not to remand them in custody.
The judge also summoned former government ministers Guillermo Dietrich (Transport) and Nicolás Dujovne (Economy) to testify via videoconference on Friday and next Monday respectively, a mechanism rejected by both Saravia Frías and Iguacel who are also challenging Canicoba Corral’s right to try them – hence the judge’s decision to commit them to trial. If the challenge of Saravia Frías prospers, the whole case could collapse.
The investigation originated in accusations made by Frente de Todos deputies Rodolfo Tailhade, Adrian Grana, Carlos Castagneto and Leopoldo Moreau, who aside from alleged irregularities in the contracts running up to 2030 charge the payment of almost US$500 million for supposed investments never written off and the sale of Mauricio Macri’s shares in Autopistas del Sol (Ausol) SA to Natal Inversiones.
Canicoba Corral will be resigning on his 75th birthday next Tuesday, pronouncing himself "fed up with the constant media harassment" during the last four years, defining himself as the victim of the presumed illegal espionage of the Macri presidency. It is precisely on these claims of persecution by the Macri administration that Saravia Frías bases his 17-page challenge of Canicoba Corral as biased.
The regularity of Canicoba Corral’s procedures are also questioned because normally indictments are defined after the delivery of testimony.
Upon his resignation being accepted and becoming effective, the City Federal Appeals Court will need to find a new judge to try this and other cases, including the high-profile probe into the 1994 terrorist bomb destruction of the AMIA Jewish community centre, some 26 years ago last Saturday.
Canicoba Corral also faces various denunciations related to his alleged excessive wealth and malfeasance at the Council of Magistrates, which will lapse once his resignation is accepted.
Iguacel left the Highways Board in 2018 to become Energy secretary in the last year of the Macri Presidency and has served as the mayor of Capitán Sarmiento (150 kilometres north of the capital) since last December.
The businessmen in charge of Ausol SA and Grupo Concesionario Oeste (both firms linked to the Macri family) are also indicted but without a date for their summons. Canicoba Corral is investigating presumed irregularities in the renegotiation of the toll concession contracts for the Panamerican and Western Access highways, which were finally renewed on June 26, 2018.
According to the writ, the evidence collected is sufficient to suspect the "existence of a prior agreement between the public and private parties involved to permit this irregular process to unfold."
The case is investigating the 10-year extension of the concessions to the toll companies without calling new tenders. The state also paid out at least US$500 million to Ausol and a further US$250 million to US$300 million to Concesionaria Oeste as compensation for presumed investments. These companies are accused of claiming multi-million debts despite not complying with their obligations.
According to the judge, the payment was made "despite not having an integral and exhaustive technical report with documentary support to validate or justify the multi-million investment recognised."
According to the denunciation, Ausol sued the Argentine state for US$1.1 billion at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (CIADI, in its Spanish acronym) on December 7, 2015, three days before Macri took office, with Saravia Frías representing the Argentine state as Treasury Prosecutor during the Macri administration. Even though the case had not gone to Argentine courts, the Macri government negotiated with the companies and paid out around US$500 million.