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argentina CAMPAIGN FINANCING ALLEGATIONS

Vidal asks official to resign over Cambiemos campaign contributions scandal

With investigations opened into alleged financing irregularities involving Cambiemos' 2017 midterm election campaign in Buenos Aires province, governor orders full audit into campaign contributions and their sources.

Wednesday 18 July, 2018
Buenos Aires Province Governor María Eugenia Vidal (right) speaks at a press conference.
Buenos Aires Province Governor María Eugenia Vidal (right) speaks at a press conference. Foto:NA

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Buenos Aires Province Governor María Eugenia Vidal has asked for the resignation of her province's general accountant and a full audit of contributions to the Cambiemos (Let's Change) coalition's 2017 midterm electoral campaign in the region, as an alleged campaign financing scandal deepened.

In the largest public acknowledgement yet by ruling part officials of claims that have cast a shadow over the ruling coalition, Vidal said she had asked María Fernanda Inza to resign her post, though she called it a "preventative" measure and indicated the official still had her trust.

Inza, who was only confirmed as the province's general accountant one week ago, previously served as a PRO party treasurer. She carried out the same role for Cambiemos coalition candidates in the 2017 midterm elections campaign, ultimately responsible for declaring the origin of campaign contributions.

"I have asked today for the resignation of the general accountant, María Fernanda Inza, from the general accounting office of the province, she was part of the team," Vidal said.

"“She was part of team for the campaign, but beyond that she has worked with me for several years. I know her, I trust her, and I have no objective elements that demonstrate her involvement in this case," she added.

The move is a significant departure from the governor's previous statements on the allegations. Just last week, she downplayed accusations that Cambiemos officials had committed electoral fraud, suggesting the claims were part of an opposition conspiracy that originated from “Kirchnerite sectors."

Things, however, have clearly changed. Vidal said today she had now taken three measures in response to the claims. As well as requesting Inza's resignation, she said she had ordered a full audit of campaign contributions and vowed to make all relevant officials and documentation available to judicial officials, with investigations into the claims now having been opened.

"Faced with this, I show my face, as I have always done, in every difficulty, of life and management. Throughout my life my conduct has always been based on honesty," Vidal added.

'FAKE RECEIPTS'

The investigation into Cambiemos’ 2017 midterm election campaign in Buenos Aires province centres on allegations that officials laundered money by falsifying donation receipts using the names and details of low-income welfare recipients.

As many as 400 people were listed as donors without knowing, with these fake donors appearing in financial statements as having given anywhere from AR$300 to AR$5,000, for a total of at least AR$300,000, according to an investigation carried out by journalist Juan Amorín that was first published by the news site El Destape, which has been sharply critical of the Mauricio Macri administration.

The money was then allegedly used to fund the campaigns of candidates Gladys González, Esteban Bullrich, Graciela Ocaña, and Héctor “Toty” Flores, all of whom won their respective races.

A criminal complaint was subsequently made by the La Alameda political-activist group. Federal prosecutor Carlos Stornelli has requested the auditing of campaign finances and an investigation into the structure of the campaign’s accounting and financial teams.

One branch of case is currently in the hands of prosecutor Jorge Di Lello in Buenos Aires City, and another with federal judge Sebastián Casanello. However, the case may be moved to provincial jurisdiction, given the connections between the alleged laundering of funds and 2017 election of candidates representing that province. A third investigation has now been opened in La Plata by Senator Teresa García (of former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchnrer's Unidad Ciudadana party).

Governor Vidal said yesterday the national government would soon look to draw up a new law on the financing of political parties and their election campaigns, which she said she would support.

- TIMES/AGENCIES

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