Officials with the Brazilian Federal Police on Thursday accused Argentina's intelligence chief Gustavo Arribas of taking US$850,000 in bribes through a money-laundering ring, reigniting previously dismissed links to a huge corruption scandal in the neighbouring country.
The bribes connect to the corruption mega scandal that is Operation Lava Jato (Car Wash) investigation, the giant scheme which was exposed in 2014 and has implicated business leaders and politicians across Latin America.
Arribas is the first member of President Mauricio Macri’s administration to be definitively targeted by the Lava Jato investigation.
In a statement, Arribas strongly denied any involvement, saying he has “no ties” to the Lava Jato scandal or Operation Discard, the latest phase of the investigation. He also denied any link to Leonardo Meirelles, who transported illegal funds for Odebrecht, nor Alberto Youssef, a Brazilian banker who was a heavy target for the Brazilian government in its Lava Jato probe, regarded to be doleiros (money changers on the Brazilian black market).
Arribas has not been formally charged with a crime. Last year, Argentine media outlets reported he received US$600,000 linked to Odebrecht, the Brazilian corporation that’s one of the main entities involved in Lava Jato, but Federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral dismissed the case.
Corral said Friday he did not see enough new evidence to reopen the case against Arribas. Under the Argentine Constitution, he cannot be tried again for the same crime. Corral said because Arribas lived outside of Argentina and was not a public official at the time of the alleged transgressions, he could not be prosecuted, according to Argentine law.
Speaking at a press conference, Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña stood by Arribas, saying “there is nothing new” in the accusations emerging from Brazil.
The accusations come after several other Macri administration members have also come under scrutiny for similar alleged wrongdoing, despite the current government's attempts to jumpstart a new anti-corruption campaign. Since the change of government in 2015, a string of Kirchnerite officials have found themselves in legal trouble over graft allegations.
“Right now there are no charges against Arribas,” Peña said in a press conference Friday. “In the case of [former undersecretary to the president] Valentín Díaz Gilligan, he left because he decided it would be better to defend himself outside the government.”
Peña also called into question the trustworthiness of Meirelles, whose testimony has been key for Brazilian investigators.
Arribas’ involvement surfaced during the latest phase of the Lava Jato investigation, known as Operation Discard. Arribas allegedly received money syphoned off of trash collection contracts with the city of São Paulo, according to Brazilian officials.
The Brazilian police official leading the investigation said Arribas used classic money-laundering tactics with the money, transferring it through banks in various countries and not alerting Brazilian financial regulators. This international network was used by other officials accused at the same time as Arribas.
The official specified one instance in which Arribas allegedly sold a piece of furniture for US$70,475. In his statement, Arribas confirmed he received a payment for that amount but said the buyer, Brazilian businessman Atila Reys Silva, was in charge of the payment process.
Appointed in December 2015, Arribas was a conventionally illogical choice for the position. He had no prior public service—before becoming AFI director he was a notary and a football agent. He is a close personal friend of Macri.
Argentina’s intelligence services enjoy little public trust, due to their history of questionable actions.