A company director at the Italo-Argentine engineering firm Techint, Luis Betnaza, has admitted to making payments to former Kirchner government officials in order to shore up a near US$ 2 billion indemnity payment from the Venezuelan government over its expropriation of Techint’s Sidor firm in 2008.
Betnaza has been indicted in the so-called “notebook” investigation. He offered testimony to federal judge Claudio Bonadio on Friday in which he downplayed the amount of money allegedly paid, saying it totalled approximately US$ 1 million.
Despite his indictment, the current vice-president of the Argentine Industrial Union's name does not appear in the series of photocopied notebooks published 10 days ago by the La Nación newspaper, which detail the illicit flow of cash from construction sector bosses to former officials of the Néstor and Cristina Kirchner governments.
“We never put any money into public works", Betnaza told reporters outside Comodoro Py courthouse on Friday, referring to the apparent modus operandi of former Kirchner government officials that involved kick backs from public works contracts.
Asked by a Noticias reporter if the payments could total as much as US$ 300 million (as that publication reported on Saturday), Betnaza replied: “I cannot talk about bribes, there is a court order in place. I told the judiciary everything I know”.
Whatever the figure, the money is believed to have bought the support of Kirchner government officials in the complex negotiations with the Hugo Chávez administration over the expropriation of Techint's Sidor.
“Betnaza testified that in order to safeguard the physical integrity and repatriation of more than 200 employees of the Techint Group and their families in Venezuela, who were living in a threatening environment during the hostile process of nationalisation and transfer of the Chavez regime, he made contributions following demands from officials of the Kirchner administrations in Argentina”, Techint said in a statement.
Sources closes to judge Bonadio suggest that Betnaza referred to three men in his testimony as having participated in the alleged payoff: former president Néstor Kirchner; former Planning minister Julio de Vido; and Héctor Zabaleta.
Zabaleta is the firm’s corporate director. Indicted, he last week secured a plea bargain. Unlike Betnaza, Zabaleta’s name does appear in the notebooks of former Planning minister driver Oscar Centeno.
Betnaza is believed to have travelled a number of times to Venezuela with Ternium CEO Daniel Novegil in order to negotiate an indemnity clause in the same expropriation saga. The clause forced the Venezuela government to take responsibility for any litigation stemming from Sigor’s activities in the country.