Sunday, July 14, 2024

ARGENTINA | 14-07-2023 07:45

Candidacy-buying allegations pile pressure on Javier Milei

Libertarian lawmaker rejects multiple claims from former allies that his party is selling candidacies and places on its electoral lists for cold hard cash (in dollars, of course).

Outspoken libertarian lawmaker Javier Milei is once again in hot water thanks to fresh claims that his La Libertad Avanza party is selling candidacies for greenbacks.

Milei, 52, also finds himself in the judicial spotlight after federal prosecutor Ramino González opened an investigation into potential criminal wrongdoing in response to the allegations.

According to a number of figures previously associated with Milei’s La Libertad Avanza party, authorities have solicited financial backing from those seeking to run for office. In a rather ‘on-brand’ style – given Milei’s insistence that Argentina should ‘dollarise’ and adopt the US greenback as its main currency – the requested fees were allegedly priced in dollars, running to as much as US$50,000 in some places.

Milei denies the claims against him and his party and says the allegations are part of a bid to smear his party and damage its electoral chances. However, the claims have been given weight by their source: former political allies, party figures and potential candidates who decided not to stand.

Lawyer, analyst and commentator Carlos Maslatón, a once close ally of Milei, was one of the first to testify about the claims. Appearing at the Comodoro Py federal courthouse earlier this month, Maslatón provided details of the alleged sale of "political franchises," declaring that "they look for people with the capacity to contribute, not suitability." 

According to reports in Perfil, he told prosecutors that the libertarian party "tries to get people to pay to join the lists." He also repeated claims that Milei's sister, Karina Milei, national party coordinator Carlos Kikuchi and the party's coordinator in Buenos Aires Province, Sebastián Pareja, knew about the sale of candidacies.

Providing details of the scheme, Maslatón said that those who choose to 'buy' a place are provided with "the use of Milei's name, logo" and a visit from the lawmaker.

"I call this political franchising, the person who receives the franchise pays a fee for the use of the image, symbol and the right to be a candidate," the online influencer told the courts, according to Perfil.

He also claimed that a party activist had written to him explaining how she left the party after she was asked to pay US$60,000 in order to run as a candidate. Reports of candidacy-selling have also been made in Entre Ríos and Neuquén.

Milei dismissed the allegations, accusing Maslatón of being a “mole” for opposition presidential hopeful Horacio Rodríguez Larreta.

"He was removed from the space because he is a 'mole' of Larreta," the libertarian lawmaker told the A24 news channel.

Maslatón, in turn, rejected that claim, saying the idea was “invented by Milei” and suggested that Milei would have found it easier to link him to Sergio Massa, the ruling coalition’s prime candidate – a reference to recent messages of support on social media he has posted.


‘Fishing expedition’

Looking to gain a handle on the scandal, Milei this month sent a letter to interim Attorney General Eduardo Casal criticising the prosecutor for spearheading the case.

Milei expressed concerns "possible manoeuvres which could amount to an abuse of jurisdiction, an illegitimate interference in an electoral process and possible actions" outside the law.

Slamming the investigation as a "fishing expedition," he said the probe is an attempt to "undermine my image, that of my collaborators and of the Alianza La Libertad Avanza."

"The undersigned [himself] is deeply concerned about the opening of the investigation without any basis whatsoever and barely a month before the election," wrote the national deputy.

Judicial sources told the Perfil newspaper that Casal is unable to interfere in the investigation and that any denunciation should go to another authority.

In the meantime, the investigation continues. Buenos Aires City lawmaker Rebeca Fleitas and the former La Libertad Avanza youth activist Mila Zurbriggen both appeared before prosecutors this week to testify.

Fleitas, who took office in 2021 after the midterm elections in which Milei's force won its first seats, said in an interview published via YouTube that the party authorities had exerted pressure on her and insisted on supervising all contracts and parliamentary support stuff.

Fleitas, who has distanced herself from the party, says she was given a "list of names to appoint," even though she sought to hire "the necessary and qualified people" to posts.

Zurbriggen also gave testimony confirming she had heard of the commercialisation of candidacies. 

Businessman Juan Carlos Blumberg, whose accusations against Milei motivated the probe, has not yet appeared in court. He is on record as having previously said that Milei's force charges “up to US$50,000 for a municipal candidacy.”

"There are people who paid and were used. In Milei's space they began to sell candidacies,” said Blumberg. “There are people who paid up to US$50,000.”

Blumberg only recently joined LA Libertad Avanza, but reports of candidacy-selling prompted him to quit the party. He also alleged that Kikuchi, one of Milei’s close allies, is behind the move to make “business” out of politics.

"We are not going to be the electoral vehicle of mafias or criminals," said the businessman, who had flirted with a candidacy for the party.

“I never met Milei but I did meet his sister. The background I had on him was through a group of acquaintances who knew him and spoke very well of him. Then came the comments from the CGT [umbrella union] of Vicente López … they tell me that they are selling the candidacies … very important people, people I have known for years, called me to tell me that his campaign was being paid for by [Sergio] Massa. But that's how I absolutely disassociated myself, and I want nothing to do with him," Blumberg said in a radio interview.

Milei, meanwhile, is insistent that he is the victim of a defamation campaign.

"Politicians, journalists and services, all against us. The reason is simple: we are the only ones who propose something different,” he posted on Twitter.

"In this space, whoever comes to put up stays. Here, everyone stands on their own two feet,” wrote the economist.



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