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Corruption In Argentina: The Santa Cruz Scandal

According to Transparency International, a global coalition against corruption, corruption is a major threat facing humanity. Corruption destroys lives and communities, and undermines countries and institutions. It generates popular anger that threatens to further destabilize societies and exacerbate violent conflicts.

Every year Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. The Corruption Perceptions Index of 2012 ranked Argentina as joint 102nd least corrupt, alongside Gabon and Tanzania, out of 176 countries and territories included in the index. As a comparison, Argentina’s neighbors Chile and Brazil ranked 20th and 69th respectively. The top ranked (least corrupt) countries were Denmark, Finland and New Zealand.

For the last ten years Argentina has been ruled by the Kirchner Family. Néstor Kirchner became president in May 2003 and ruled for four years until his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, replaced him as president in December 2007. Néstor Kirchner died on 27 October 2010 from a heart attack.

Nestor-CristinaBefore becoming President Néstor Kirchner was the governor of a province named Santa Cruz for 12 years, between 1991 and 2003. Santa Cruz, located in the south of the country, is remote and sparsely populated, but rich in oil and gas. During his time in Santa Cruz, Mr. Kirchner developed a tight network of trusted friends, many he took with him to Buenos Aires when he became President where they were dubbed “the penguins”.

In 1992, Governor Néstor Kirchner and then Provincial Deputy Cristina Kirchner intensely and successfully lobbied President Carlos Menem to sell the state oil company YPF. As a reward, in 1993, the federal government paid Santa Cruz Province $654 million (US) in long-outstanding royalties owed by YPF.

Once the funds reached Santa Cruz, and changed from federal funds into provincial funds, Mr. Kirchner immediately expatriated them. Ever since then little is known about what happened to the funds.

Adrian Salbuchi, known for speaking and writing about geopolitics, international relations, political power structures and financial globalization, claims in an RT article that the funds passed through several tax havens including the Cayman Islands. In the article he also mentions that when Néstor Kirchner became President in 2003, he admitted that the funds were deposited with global mega-banks Morgan Stanley in Luxembourg, and UBS and Crédit Suisse in Switzerland; two tax havens known for their strict banking secrecy.

The only legal repercussions from the scandal took place in May 2004 when a civil lawsuit was filed against Néstor Kirchner and his helpers in a Buenos Aires District Federal Economic Crimes Court. Sadly, in July 2005 the case was closed declaring Kirchner and his helpers innocent of any wrongdoing. The decision comes as no surprise when one considers that the judge during the lawsuit was Santiago Maria Losada; Kirchner’s nephew-in-law.

In April 2013 an Argentine TV program, Periodismo Para Todos presented by Jorge Lanata, broadcasted a series concerning a businessman called Lazaro Báez in a multi-million dollar corruption scandal.

lanata

Over the last two decades Lazaro Báez has risen from an obscure bank cashier in Santa Cruz to the main public works contractor of Santa Cruz and neighboring provinces after having absorbed the competition. His vast business empire includes interests in the fields of construction, the media and oil exploitation.

Clarin, who owns the TV channel the show aired on, identifies Báez as an “intimate friend” of Nestor Kirchner. Clarin’s allegation has firm roots when the following is considered.

In 2007 Báez purchased a dozen large estates in Santa Cruz which he paid for in cash for a total of $28 million (US). It is alleged that Báez had insider information concerning the land he had purchased as the province intended to expropriate some of the land to build dams for hydroelectric plants. Coincidently, one of Báez’s companies was chosen to build the dams.

Jorge Lanata’s program showed hidden camera footage in which one of Báez ‘s associates, Leonardo Fariñas, admitted to involvement in a money laundering network that handled the proceeds from government corruption, while working for Báez ‘s contractor business.

Leonardo Fariña, working with Báez and the financier Federico Elaskar, sent some $55 million euros belonging to Baez to Switzerland. Elaskar also accused the people working with the businessman of threatening him until he sold his operation, which had been used to carry out the transfers abroad. Fariñá maintained that Néstor Kirchner knew about the operations and that he was Báez’s partner “in everything”.

Later in the TV series Mirima Quiroga, Néstor Kirchner’s private secretary and a very close aid during all his electoral campaigns until he became President, gave testimony of money laundering.

Mirima QuirogaQuiroga declared that ‘bags full of money’ on a weekly basis were received at Government House in Buenos Aires and later flown by Mr. Kirchner’s personal secretary, Daniel Muñoz, to Santa Cruz to be deposited in the vaults especially constructed in the family’s mansion. The money-bag traffic was ‘once or twice’ a week and bills were not counted, “they were calculated by their weight’, according to what Muñoz told Quiroga.

So far, there has been no official reply to the allegations, but a few coarse statements from President Cristina Fernandez’s supporters who claim it is all a political ploy in an electoral year, sponsored by the Clarin media group.

If Clarin’s revelations are true and Néstor Kirchner had links with money laundering the case may revive the unresolved controversy over the source of the Kirchners’ vast personal fortune. President Cristina Fernandez’s tax office records from 2003 declared that she was worth $7 million (Argentine pesos), in 2011, tax records declared she was worth $70 million pesos.

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