Two winters ago, it seemed nothing could be more cinematically grotesque than the multi-million money-bags tossed over a convent wall and yet eight grubby exercise-books from a bygone technology might well end up delivering a bigger punch in the indictment of Kirchnerite corruption. Far more money is involved this time – up to US$200 million in bribes collected from favoured contractors, if reports are to be believed – but the most damning element is the intricate detail of graft movements throughout a decade and involving two presidencies and the upper échelons of the Federal Planning Ministry, all meticulously compiled by the man behind the wheel. While both sides of the graft have been covered by arresting exofficials and businessmen, the guilt surely falls most squarely on those entrusted with public funds at the receiving-end of the bribes – while the contractors can be accused of greedy opportunism, often obscene overpricing and zero ethics, they at least have the argument that they might have jeopardised the jobs of their employees by not complying with a rotten system that left them no choice other than to participate themselves.
Yet everybody is innocent until proven guilty under the law. So what is the defence of those who stand accused? They do not help their case by shouting political persecution much louder than say, pointing out judicial flaws – the latter course could offer the more valid objections. None of the attempts to shift the argument from the political to the judicial plane are very convincing. Presenting this scandal as a distraction from an adverse socio-economic scenario (like the abortion bill and the changing the role of the military) or from the bogus contributions to the current government’s campaign in Buenos Aires province (serious enough to be the subject of last week’s editorial, but relatively minor) does not wash – and not only because this is far from being the worst point of the financial crisis with the dollar actually falling in July. Just as no time is the wrong time for such a fundamental issue as abortion to be addressed, so corruption has to be confronted when it runs this deep.
Another political argument is to view this as a bid to take out Senator Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, at a time when the ex-president is climbing in the opinion polls, especially in her Greater Buenos Aires stronghold but with at least a quarter of the vote nationwide. Yet if that is the strategy, the government is shooting itself in the foot because a Kirchner candidacy is ideal for President Mauricio Marci’s re-election bid – too high a floor to leave room for any Peronist rival and too low a ceiling to have any real run-off chances. Take her out and Macri risks having to take on a united opposition in a bleak economic climate.
So let us stop politicising this case and allow justice to take its course. Still very early days here but at least one aspect should not escape attention – the protagonism of Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio, who is hardly a byword for impartiality, especially when it comes to Senator Fernández de Kirchner. The devil always lies in the detail – for now the intricate detail is a huge part of the staggering impact of this scandal but who knows if some of the details might not trip up the prosecution at a later stage? Now is not the time to prejudge the judgement.
Last (and perhaps least), the reader will hopefully allow us a line of self-congratulation for our profession, even though the story did not first appear inside these pages – all this has been a supreme vindication of investigative journalism. All the more so because the temptation of the scoop was resisted to take everything to court. And that is where this scandal should stay