Within this year’s government plan, the “fight against corruption” is a point President Mauricio Macri hopes to highlight. And in this battle, the Anti-Corruption Office (OA), under the charge of Laura Alonso, is the principal institution responsible.
According to documentation provided by the Treasury Ministry, obtained by Perfil's Special Investigative Unit, this OA has received bumper backing from the government. During an election year and amid a strong government readjustment toward austerity, the OA has gone against the trend, scoring a massive budget increase that has seen its funds this yera swell from 68 million pesos in 2018 to almost 102 million pesos in 2019.
The funds, meant to help the organisation investigate and inspect public and private corruption, represents an annual budgetary increase of nearly 50 percent year-on-year, making the OA one of the most well-funded offices within the Justice and Human Rights Ministry.
Digging into the numbers, the Anti-Corruption Office was one of the few areas that received an increase of funds for salaries: of the 33-million-peso increase in the budget, most went to “personnel spending,” rising to its highest amount in the last five years.
In 2019, salaries represented almost 83 percent of the office’s overall budget, having increased by almost 50 million pesos compared to the previous year.
Toward the end of 2018, the office had 117 contracted employees. Of those 72 were professionals (mainly lawyers and accountants), 12 were technical assistants and 33 were administrators. Perfil's investigative team requested access to information to confirm the number of employees and their salaries, but did not yet receive a response.
“The person that answers the requests is on vacation,” said an administrative employee from the OA’s reception.
The office has existed since 1999, having been created by Law No. 25.233, and is the authority for the application of the Law of Public Ethics, legislation which the government hopes to reform and broaden.
Between its principle purviews, the OA is charged with receiving complaints regarding public officials about corruption and monitoring sworn statements made by officials.
According to official data from 2018, there were 196 cases brought to the Justice Ministry by the OA. On 41 occasions the office was the complainant. Of these records, the Perfil newspaper determined that the OA was only complainant in cases of officials with ties to Kirchnerismo.
The index of those under investigation is a closely guarded secret by the OA, something not even agreed to by General Auditor of the Nation (AGN).
“We exhausted every appeal to obtain the information,” Oscar Lamberto, president of the AGN told the Perfil's investigative unit. “We don’t have a single one.”
The protection presented this past month was decided by unanimous vote by the College of Auditors of the AGN.
Meanwhile, the “National Anti-Corruption Plan,” approved by government decree, assign the OA the responsibility of representing the country around the world.
For this, the OA was assigned a budget of more than two million pesos in 2019 – double the previous year's total. These funds are to be used for trips, to support participation in events and to promote the imagine of a “trustworthy” Argentina. In three years, Alonso, the office’s director, has disclosed details of 14 trips.
When approached for this investigation, Alonso did not respond to questions because she was, according to her, at an event abroad.
However, afterwards, authorities at the AO stated she was on leave for “personal reasons.”