Lawmakers from the ruling Cambiemos (Let's Change) coalition boycotted the presentation of a federal judge in Congress on Wednesday, alleging it was part of a conspiracy to derail an investigation into the alleged corruption committed by the former Kirchner administrations.
Alejo Ramos Padilla, Federal Judge for Dolores in Buenos Aires province, appeared at Congress on the invitation of Freedom of Expression Committee chairman Leopoldo Moreau, a key congressional ally of former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Ramos Padilla's investigation centres on a cache evidence, some now publicly available, that suggests the Federal Prosecutor Carlos Stornelli, the lead prosecutor of the pre-trial investigation into some of the most scandalous allegations of corruption against Fernández de Kirchner and former government officials, partook in an illicit espionage and extortion scheme using a frontman, Marcelo D'Alessio.
Ramos Padilla ordered D'Alessio's arrest on bail last week and summoned Stornelli to testify. Stornelli failed to appear in court.
On Wednesday, lawmakers from President Mauricio Macri's Cambiemos coalition described Ramos Padilla's appearance in Congress as "a game" and a "manoeuvre" to "derail" the so-called "notebooks of corruption" investigation into an alleged kick-back scheme involving officials of the Fernández de Kirchner government and construction sector bosses.
A group of Cambiemos lawmakers released a joint statement, taking aim at legislators and allies of the former president.
"If he (judge Ramos Padilla) is trying to put on a show in the public sphere, with the complicity of those who are truly concerned about the sentences they deserve for having run from the Executive a system of corruption which is now being revealed in several cases, like the notebooks investigation, then it will not involve our participation", the statement obtained by the Noticias Argentinas news agency charged.
Wednesday's meeting was public and open to legislators. In it, Ramos Padilla denounced a broad system of "illegal espionage" aimed at extorting business people.
"We have a source of evidence from (businessman Pedro) Etchebest, but we also have non contaminated evidence which was sequestered during the raid (on Marcelo D'Alessio's home) which allows us to verifying the depth of this espionage network in Argentina", the judge said.
"It is a political and judicial espionage network", he explained.
"The case could involve a prosecutor, but not just one; a journalist; a judge. It's limitless", he said.
Ramos Padilla warned that the evidence "could jeapordise" Argentina's diplomatic "relationships with the United States, Venezuela, Israel and Uruguay, because it is an organisation which was involved in various activities in various countries", he added.
Prosecutor Stornelli is facing investigations, both criminally and through disciplinary channels within the Judiciary, for allegedly using D'Alessio to extort money from business people tied to the alleged "notebooks" graft scheme.
Ramos Padilla's acceptance of the offer comes a day after Stornelli failed to appear before the judge after being summoned to testify.
"As a fact it is more than remarkable," Congressman Moreau said in an interview on C5N. "I do not remember if a judge has offered to go to Parliament to report an issue of this type or any other type".
Ramos Padilla last week sent Argentina's interim Attorney General Eduardo Casal a report detailing the accusations against Stornelli.
"He is accused in particular of claiming and ordering parallel investigations for judicial cases, [which is] not authorised by law," Ramos Padilla wrote.
The 20-page report goes beyond the original charge of D’Alessio’s bid to extort US$300,000 from businessman Pedro Etchebest to expose an espionage and extortion ring allegedly including prize-winning Clarín investigative journalist Daniel Santoro among various lesser-known names.
The investigation also includes a potential probe into the role of the United States on the basis of D’Alessio’s claim to be a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent.