Claudio Bonadio, the federal judge leading the high-profile ‘cuadernos’ notebooks investigation probing alleged corruption during the Kirchner presidencies, has been diagnosed with a suspected brain tumour or cyst, reports said yesterday.
The news, which was conf i r m e d b y sources inside the Comodoro Py courthouse to Perfil.com early Friday afternoon, came in the wake of rumours that began circulating in judicial circles on Thursday.
The sources confirmed Bonadio, who is also leading many other corruption probes involving former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and other ex-government officials, had requested medical leave, initially for 15 days. This raises questions about how quickly the investigations will now proceed, given the federal judge’s health problem.
Argentina faces a key presidential election in October, in which President Mauricio Macri will go for re-election. Fernández de Kirchner, who has not yet officially confirmed if she will run, is expected to be his main rival in the race for the Casa Rosada.
The severity of Bonadio’s condition – whether it is a tumour or cyst and if so, whether benign or malignant – and the treatment programme he may face as a result of the diagnosis remain unknown.
At first, sources confirmed to Perfil that the judge had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, though they emphasised it could also be a cyst. By late afternoon, sources said they could only confirm it was a “brain injury,” citing medical prudence from doctors. Other unconfirmed reports said he may have suffered a “cerebral lesion.” Additional sources confirmed Bonadio will undergo an operation at the Fleni Institute hospital on Montañeses street in Belgrano today.
The news was initially broken this morning by journalist Horacio Verbitsky on El Destape radio, who said the news was an “open secret” at the courthouse.
“Several days ago it was learned that he had asked for [medical] leave,” said Verbitsky, saying the rumours had been confirmed to him by “initially a prosecutor and ... later by a judge very close to him.”
“He said he was tired, he had to rest and [the rumours] started spreading about health problems. In Comodoro Py, it is an open secret that he has a health problem and that it is serious,” added Verbitsky.
The journalist added that Bonadio, 63, had undergone an MRI scan that had spotted “a tumour in the cerebellum with a very reserved prognosis.”
Although the sources inside the courthouse told Perfil.com they didn’t know the judge’s prognosis, Verbitsky claimed it was “unlikely” the judge would return to court and take on his cases in the short term.
“I cannot assure you, I am not a doctor, but because of the seriousness he is unlikely to return,” the journalist said.
Questioned by Radio 10 about the news, Justice Minister Germán Garavano said that he did not “have information to confirm or to deny” the rumours
Bonadio’s initial medical leave, which started on Wednesday, is scheduled to last until May 15. He will have to request an extension, or return to his court, where he has sat on the bench since the 1990s.
The development will pose questions over the direction of a series of high-profile cases, none more so than those involving Fernández de Kirchner, especially the so-called ‘cuadernos de las coimas’ case.
The cuadernos probe – which is based on records allegedly kept by Oscar Centeno, a former driver and chaffeur detailed to key officials in the Federal Planning Ministry – is investigating an alleged sweeping bribery scheme during the administrations of Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who stands accused of orchestrating a kickback scheme in cahoots with leading figures from country’s construction sector.
The notebooks came to light after they were the subject of investigations by the La Nación local daily. According to prosecutors, at least US$160 million in bribes were paid between 2003 and 2007 alone.
In total, Fernández de Kirchner currently faces at least eight legal proceedings, another five rulings ordering that she be remanded in custody (she cannot be arrested given her parliamentary immunity as a national Senator), and five trials.
The first oral and public trial is scheduled to begin on May 21 when she will face charges of embezzling public works funds allocated to contracts in Santa Cruz province. Former Federal Planning Ministry officials and the businessman Lázaro Báez, the Kirchners’ alleged frontman, will also face trial.