Legal representatives for President Alberto Fernández have said the head of state will launch a civil action in the courts after a contestant on the Big Brother TV show accused him of paying bribes.
The furore surrounds comments made by Walter 'Alfa' Santiago, one of the most prominent and outspoken cast members of the recently revamped reality series known in Argentina as Gran Hermano. During an episode of the programme, in which he slammed several politicians, the contestant claimed that he had firsthand knowledge of corruption perpetrated by the head of state.
"I have known Alberto Fernández for 35 years. I paid bribes to Fernández many times. I know him very well," Santiago, 60, alleged in a programme that aired Wednesday.
"There are many politicians who have tied themselves to power: Cafiero, Cafiero's children, Cafiero's grandchildren, and the Rodríguez Saá family, who have made fortunes from politics," he continued.
Later that evening, the Casa Rosada came out to clarify that the president does not recall ever meeting Santiago and has not ever engaged in corruption.
In his initial presentation, Santiago said that he is from Tigre and is dedicated to the purchase, sale, and repair of classic cars.
"I was always a leader. I'm very hot and spiteful. I have a lot of memories. I don't forget anything. I'm going to be the patriarch of the house," he warned in the clip that was part of the programme's debut.
From the outset, the contestant has drawn attention thanks to his character and bombastic style. He previously appeared dressed in a jacket with the United States flag and a bald eagle, cowboy boots, and a bandana on his head, a nod to the time when he lived in Miami between 2001 and 2013.
Alfa has his Instagram account viewable to the public. Since signing up to the show, he has posted very actively, sharing everything from his meetings with public figures to commenting on political debates.
For example, when Marcelo 'Teto' Medina was arrested, Santiago shared a photo and posted: "Dear Teto... I know you do it from the heart. A few days ago you told me you couldn't buy my motorcycle because 'I don't have a coin'.”
On October 9, he shared a photo and a video in which he is seen with the mayor of San Isidro, Gustavo Posse, in the middle of a classic car event. "Here with Mr. Gustavo Posse, one of the best mayors in the history of Argentina," he is heard saying. After thanking the opposition leader, Santiago went on to say, "to all the friends of Miami, this is the future president of the Nation. I have no doubt, it is what is needed, I have no doubt".
A fan of eye-catching cars and motorcycles, his political statements against the government have constantly raised attention.
The Casa Rosada response
Video showing Santiago's claims quickly swamped social media after one follower who managed to capture the remarks from the 24-hour online broadcast that the programme airs.
"Second day and Alfa already threw that Alberto Fernandez, RIPPED him A LOT OF TIMES ... as we are going to have fun with this guy," wrote user @StarkDSC along with the 36-second snippet.
The video immediately went viral, and Presidential Spokeswoman Gabriela Cerruti scrambled to publish a thread of tweets in which she denied the claims, reassuring Argentines that "the president has no information about this person nor does he remember meeting him," and that "he has made transparency a central purpose of his management in public office."
The government official complained about the slander, declaring: "We cannot normalise that someone expresses himself lightly in such a way that he only seeks to defame and discredit."
Cerruti’s remarks aroused criticism from opposition leaders, who pointed out that there are more important problems that merit government intervention than reality TV programmes.
"Is the President worried about Big Brother, @gabicerru? Really?" asked Juntos por el Cambio deputy and former Buenos Aires Province governor María Eugenia Vidal.
Just before midnight, Cerutti responded: "The president is concerned, among many other issues, about decency in the exercise of public office. We already know that you are not. We saw you destroy the province."