Former federal planning minister Julio De Vido has been sentenced to five years and eight months in jail for his role in the 2012 Once train tragedy.
It is the first prison sentence for the former government official, who served under the administrations of both Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and is currently jailed in preventative custody on other corruption charges. The Anti-Corruption Office had requested a sentence of up to 10 years be handed down for the crimes of fraud and fraudulent administration, while prosecutors requested nine years.
Fifty-one people, among them a pregnant woman, were killed and nearly 800 injured when a passenger train plummeted into the Once railway terminal during peak hour in Buenos Aires’ Balvanera neighbourhood on February 22, 2012. Around 1,000 passengers were on board when the crowded eight-carriage train, whose brakes were not activated, hit the buffers at the end of the Sarmiento line.
Today's sentence, handed down in Federal Oral Criminal Court No. 4 by judges Pablo Bertuzzi, Nestor Costabel, María Gabriela López Iñíguez and Ana María D'Alessio, comes from a case known as "Once II," the second major probe into criminal wrongdoing related to the tragedy. In the first trial, it became clear that the crash had occurred not only due to negligence on the part of the train's driver, Marcos Córdoba, but also as a result of poor conditions and failed safety checks.
De Vido was not in court to hear his sentence read. He was found guilty of defrauding public administration, yet acquitted of a charge of criminal damage endangering public safety. The court also banned him from ever again holding a state job.
Speaking prior to sentencing to the court, the ex-Kirchnerite official blamed President Mauricio Macri and the current government for his conviction, saying the court had adhered to a "political decision."
"By the art of magic, or should I say the art of Macri, they have put me through the window," he declared in closing remarks delivered be videoconference from the Marcos Paz prison, accusing the president of asking for his "detention in a public way."
De Vido, who has been behind bars since last November, said he was the victim of "political, media and judicial persecution," linking his arrest to criminal proceedings against Fernández de Kirchner and jailed former vice-president Amado Boudou.
Paolo Menghini, the father of Lucas Menghini – one of the victims of the accident whose lifeless body was found two days after the accident, crushed between the train carriages – said he was satisfied with the ruling though he said the families would appeal the decision to acquit De Vido of the criminal damage endangering public safety charge.
"It is an exemplary sentence ... we are satisfied, we parents, brothers, widowers, widows," he said.
"Today, with De Vido convicted, Argentina is a better country," Menghini told reporters after leaving the court.
Several former officials from the Fernández de Kirchner government were found guilty of manslaughter and fraud related to the crash in 2015, including former transport secretaries Ricardo Jaime and Juan Pablo Schiavi.
In May, earlier this year, a federal appeals court added two years to the sentence handed down to Jaime for his responsibility, taking his jail time up to eight years. However, the court reduced jail time for Schaivi (five-and-a-half years), chief of the line's operator Trenes de Buenos Aires (TBA) Claudio Cirigliano (seven years) and Córdoba, the driver of the train (three years, three months).
The tragedy prompted then-president Fernández de Kirchner to call two days of national mourning. She subsequently decided to nationalise and modernise the railway system, which had been privatised under the government of Carlos Menem (1989-1999).
Argentina's independent auditor general later delivered a blistering report on the causes of the crash, suggesting that the problems are systemic, due to many years of mismanagement, corruption and disrepair.
The railway accident was the third most serious of its kind in Argentine history measured through number of victims. The Sarmiento railway line transports around half a million people every day.