Tuesday, May 28, 2024

ARGENTINA | 29-05-2020 16:47

Macri, ex-spy agency chiefs face probe over alleged illegal espionage

Former president Mauricio Macri indicted as part of investigation into claims more than 80 individuals – including journalists and politicians – were victims of illegal espionage from AFI spy agency during his 2015-2019 government.

Federal prosecutor Jorge Di Lello said Friday that former president Mauricio Macri and a number of his former officials should face a judicial investigation into alleged illegal espionage charges presented by AFI intelligence trustee Cristina Caamaño.

A federal judge will determine whether to authorsze an investigation and possible charges.

In her deposition, Caamano asked state prosecutors to investigate Macri and said "emails from almost 100 people were spied on without any court order," according to sources.

Also indicted were ex-AFI chief Gustavo Arribas, his former second-in-command Silvia Majdalani and the latter’s brother-in-law Darío Biorci, together with a number of unidentified agents.

The indictment relates to developments on Tuesday, when Caamaño – installed by President Alberto Fernández soon after the Peronist leader took office in December 2019 with a mandate to clean house – presented the federal courts with a list of over 80 victims of alleged illegal espionage by the agency when it headed by Arribas during the 2015-19 Mauricio Macri administration.

The complaint was filed digitally in Buenos Aires on Tuesday because of an ongoing lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic. Caamañ provided computer equipment seized by the intelligence agency as evidence of the allegations.

The alleged activities, dating back from June 2, 2016, allegedly consisted of email hacking which came to light from information recovered by AFI from a hard drive (Western Digital brand) which had been wiped. Di Lello, in his indictment, judged this material to be legitimate.

None of the intelligence tasks denounced had been authorised by any magistrate, making them illegal, according to Caamaño’s denunciation. She said the former president should face questioning. 

The list contains the names of politicians, including those allied to Macri, as well as journalists, officials, businessmen, ambassadors, trade unionists, artists and military and police officers.

Figures seen as ultra-Kirchnerite, such as Senator Oscar Parrilli and deputy Rodolfo Tailhade, were among the 80-plus names, as well as Fernando "Chino" Navarro, Martín Sabbatella, Gabriela Cerruti and the Kirchnerite intellectual Ricardo Forster.

However, there were also Juntos por el Cambio opposition politicians, including lower house caucus leader Mario Negri (Radical-Córdoba), his former PRO counterpart Nicolás Massot, the Radical Ernesto Sanz, co-founder of Macri’s 2015 Cambiemos coalition, and former Anti-Corruption Office (AO) chief Laura Alonso.

Politicians on neither side of the divide also appear, such as former Río Negro governor Alberto Weretilneck (now a sitting senator). Figures beyond the world of politics include the government-aligned television impresario Marcelo Tinelli, who lashed out at the news on Twitter, sparking a war of words with opposition politicians.

"They listened to your phone calls, read your emails, put the squeeze on you with AFIP," Tinelli wrote on Twitter, referring to Argentina's tax collection service.

"They had a state apparatus, which we paid for, to persecute those who thought differently or their own who might go astray. #SiSePuede,” said the TV presenter, ironically quoting the Macri election campaign slogan.

Former Macri administration official Hernán Lombardi gave an interview in response describing the news as one of many “distraction bombs” from the government.

Women, Gender and Diversity Minister Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, who also appears on the list, said Friday she would put herself forward as a plaintiff in the case.

"We had information but not with as much certainty of illegal espionage until now, not only on the opposition but also on the ruling party," she said.

In last year’s election campaign former Buenos Aires Province governor María Eugenia Vidal, a key figure in Cambiemos, let slip that her telephone had been bugged, allegedly alerted to it by PRO lower house caucus chairman Cristian Ritondo.

Di Lello had already been assigned the case on Tuesday with Caamaño’s charges, along with federal judge Marcelo Martínez de Giorgi.

On Wednesday, the charges were studied in Congress by the Bicameral

Intelligence Committee, chaired by Frente de Todos deputy Leopoldo Moreau, in a two-hour session. The opposition expressed doubts and requested more details – Ritondo, for example, asked why it had taken six months to locate the hard disk.

Former SIDE intelligence chief Miguel Angel Toma expressed suspicions that all the evidence for the AFI trustee’s charges had come from the agency itself.

Changes in intelligence legislation are running high on the government agenda. The government said Wednesday that it would convene a commission to reform legislation governing intelligence, adding it would carry out a comprehensive review of the "legal, organic and functional" aspects with a view to submitting a reform bill within 120 days.

During Macri's presidency, legal authorities opened numerous investigations into alleged corruption involving former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who is now vic- president. Those have been stalled in part by difficulties in holding hearings under pandemic restrictions.

Macri is also under investigation over government handling of the Correo Argentino debt owed by one of his family's businesses, of a wind-farm contract and campaign financing.



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