A federal judge has agreed to close legal proceedings against President Alberto Fernández and First Lady Fabiola Yáñez related to the so-called ‘Olivosgate’ scandal, in exchange for “conciliatory” payments totalling three million pesos.
San Isidro Federal Judge Lino Mirabelli signed off on the head of state’s "economic compensation" proposal on Monday, after lead prosecutor Fernando Domínguez agreed to the offer last week.
Under the deal, Fernández and Yáñez must transfer — within 10 days — a total of three million pesos (around US$24,400 with the day’s official exchange rate) to the prestigious ANLIS-Malbrán research institute and a centre for development of vaccines and serums.
The president must pay 1.6 million pesos, with the first lady paying 1.4 million pesos. Prosecutors estimate that the amount “would cover the price of a ventilator” used in intensive care units for Covid patients with four plus days of hospitalisation.
The allegations relate to controversial quarantine violations by the presidential couple in July, 2020, when the duo hosted an illegal dinner at the Olivos presidential residence to celebrate the first lady’s 39th birthday.
The event, attended by around a dozen guests, took place at the height of a strict coronavirus lockdown with a ban on all gatherings – even for funerals. The president was therefore in violation of the rules he himself imposed to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.
The other attendees of the party are negotiating similar financial arrangements, according to reports.
Photographs of the gathering leaked online In August last year, triggering a deluge of criticism in the pandemic-hit country and rebukes from both Fernández's own party, as well as the opposition.
When the scandal broke, Fernández apologised for the celebration, which he described as “a mistake” but “not a malicious act.” However, he argued that “no crime” had been committed given that there was no Covid-19 outbreak as a result of the event and blamed it on the context of a "pandemic management maelstrom."
Following his remarks, opposition leaders lodged a lawsuit against the president, the first lady and their guests, with all those in attendance subsequently charged by the courts.
“There is no dispute between the parties as to the legal qualification of the fact, the operability of the institute invoked, the extent of the damage and the proportionality of the offer,” wrote Judge Mirabelli in a ruling approving the agreement and closing the case.
The magistrate agreed that the violation of Covid rules was “unrelated to the [president’s] exercise of the public duties assigned to him as head of the National Executive Branch.”
The amounts offered by both the president and the first lady qualify as "integral reparations," the judge argued, a remedy provided for in Article 59, Paragraph 6 of the Criminal Code. Such reparations require that the offers be accepted by a prosecutor and approved by a judge in order for the criminal actions to be halted.
Responding to the news, anti-government critics on Twitter organised a 'cacerolazo' pot-banging protest to express their outrage.
“Alberto Fernandez closes the case of the Olivos party with the complicity of Prosecutor Domínguez and Judge Mirabelli. Tonight they deserve the noise of the pans,” tweeted journalist Luis Gasulla.
“I don't know if [a] #Cacerolazo is the way. Neither banging pots and pans nor waving flags moves them. It's obvious – the deaths and the damage they caused do not move them,” complained one user.
Another user said that no amount of money could “repair so much pain, or so much disrespect for all Argentines.”
President Fernández, however, defended the decision to pay reparations, saying last week that “citizens have the right to propose a financial remedy to extinguish the action.”
“I used a right that I have as a citizen, not a prerogative as president,” he added.
According to the Noticias Argentinas news agency, Fernández will take out a loan with Banco Santander to pay the fine. The president, a university and criminal law professor, appeared in court without a lawyer to offer monetary compensation. Yáñez told the court that her funds would be paid with the support of her family.
According to analysts, the birthday dinner revelation strongly and negatively impacted public opinion, arriving shortly before the midterm elections in November, 2021, in which the government lost the majority in the Senate and various seats in the Chamber of Deputies.