The Anti-Corruption Office (OA, in its Spanish acronym) has decided to withdraw as plaintiff in all graft investigations compromising former and current officials, arguing both an internal political decision and lack of staff.
"Since its creation the Anti-Corruption Office has had two clearly differentiated tasks: the prevention of corruption and its investigation," read a OA resolution justifying the move. "Regarding investigation, the Office’s functions largely overlap those specific to other prosecutors, especially the Prosecutor’s Office for Administrative Investigations."
"A preliminary analysis of the situation shows that the assignment of this Office’s professional resources have privileged the National Directorate for Strategic Litigation at the expense of investigations and even more the prevention of corruption and the promotion of integrity and transparency," reads the part of the resolution pleading lack of staff.
Argentina’s Anti-Corruption Office, first created in 1999, has regularly faced accusations of party political bias. Opposition lawmakers and former officials criticised the latest move, but OA chief Félix Crous argued it was a logical move.
"That’s what we’ve been announcing since we took over, obvious for those of us interested in the Anti-Corruption Office and old enough to know how it started,” he said. Apart from overlap with the prosecutors, the office has always carried the suspicion of being too tough with the opposition and too soft with those appointing its staff. The overlap wastes scarce resources."
Arguing that the OA was never really a plaintiff in cases, he argued that the time had come "to end this detective work which only serves to persecute the opposition or for personal benefit," a not-so-subtle dig at his predecessor Laura Alonso, who was appointed to the post by former president Mauricio Macri.
Crous said in radio interviews that President Alberto Fernández was in full agreement with his vision of no longer being a “para-judicial organism” nor a plaintiff against any government, "neither the previous nor the current.”
Alonso, who was controversially appointed to her position after Macri altered the requirements to hold the post by decree, was quick to fire back on Twitter.
"Hail the impunity which has come to stay. Did @alferdez also read it in the newspapers? The Anti-Corruption Office has dissolved its Litigation department and won’t intervene any more in cases against officials and ex-officials,” wrote the official.
“We bore four years of insults, false charges and lies but never before had the OA done so much to head off and investigate corruption… Cuadernos, Odebrecht, Once, Ciccone, money-laundering and public works were some of the lawsuits we left at OA, along with very good human resources. They threw them out or did not renew their contracts.
“A pity for the country which has taken a huge step backwards. I want to recognise the work of all the OA lawyers who with professional rigour achieved historic milestones in the trials and convictions of the corrupt. Now the executioner has thrown away their efforts. The new Law of Public Ethics which we sent to Congress where it now lies dormant proposed changes to strengthen the whole system for controlling officials. We salute that reform which will never come to pass," said the former chief, who faced criticism for politicising the AO during her leadership.
"A hug to protected witnesses, the OA has abandoned them,” Alonso concluded, in another post on the social network.
The OA in turn was equally quick to hit back at Alonso, saying that she had dropped 44 cases and never advanced any against officials of the Mauricio Macri administration, while allegedly leaving over 100 conflict of interest cases unresolved. Alonso was further accused of having left the OA with 30 percent less staff.
“The office will continue investigating and denouncing as until now but it will not be a plaintiff,” explained a spokesperson for Crous and his team, adding that these denunciations were directed against officials of the Macri administration but the OA would not be plaintiff in the case.
Both sides, in turn, were criticised by former deputy and presidential candidate Margarita Stolbizer, who slammed Crous’ decision to dissolve the litigation department as opening up “the road to impunity.”
She argued, however, that “the OA had already lost its independence under Macri,” a reference to Alonso’s leadership.
The former AO chief responded: “No, Margarita. The OA did what had never been done in its history. It had historic achievements: convictions, laws, decrees. You never mentioned anything. I’ve lost all respect for you. You went into the social wilderness when you teamed up with [Sergio] Massa. You’re the one who’s lost all shame.”
The most direct criticism of Crous came from Juntos por el Cambio deputy Graciela Ocaña, who affirmed: "His aim is the impunity of [Vice-President] Cristina [Fernández de] Kirchner and her followers," adding that his argument of a lack of staff was “shameful.”