Federal judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral ended his long and controversial judicial career of 27 years last Tuesday with a flourish, sending former Economy minister Nicolás Dujovne to trial on charges of malfeasance and abuse of authority related to the awarding of highway toll concessions during the 2015-2019 Mauricio Macri presidency.
The judge, who steps down under a shadow of investigations into his own dealings, slapping a 100-million-peso lien on Dujovne’s assets.
The former minister thus joins his former colleagues, ex-Transport minister Guillermo Dietrich, former Treasury prosecutor Bernardo Saravia Frías and former National Highway Board director Javier Iguacel in the dock. None of the four have been remanded in custody.
The departing magistrate has faced criticism in court circles for indicting the ex-Macri administration officials before completion of the interrogation stage, contrary to usual procedure.
The move came in the same week that President Alberto Fernández unveiled his judicial reform bill, which would reshape key institutions. The Peronist leader claims it will ensure the Judiciary remains independent from the Executive, though the opposition charges it is a move to ensure “impunity” for former officials who served in the Kirchner administrations, specifically former president and Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Canicoba Corral says that the indicted ex-Macri administration officials bypassed Congress in irregularly awarding the tolls for the Panamerican and Western Access highways to Ausol (Autopistas del Sol) and Grupo Concesionario Oeste respectively. The latter is linked to the Macri family, while Macri sold his Ausol shares to Natal Inversiones just before becoming president, not only renewing their contracts until 2030 but paying them several hundred million dollars, allegedly to compensate delayed toll updating to inflation, despite the companies not having met their investment commitments under previous contracts.
Less than 24 hours after the charges were filed, Canicoba Corral duly retired upon turning 75. At one stage it seemed that his exit would be considerably less orderly since he faced five charges of corruption (fed by his high maintenance lifestyle and spending habits) and malfeasance at the Council of Magistrates, the body which oversees judges. The charges against the federal judge now lapse upon his retirement.
In an interview this week, Canicoba Corral attributed the allegations against him to a “permanent” campaign media persecution over the last four years. He hit back with strong words upon his retirement, accusing supporters of Macri of trying to “kill the messenger” and seeking to “politicise” the case so that nobody would talk about the “irrefutable” documented evidence in the highway toll investigation, which he forecast would go all the way up to former president.
Commenting on the retirement, Civic Coalition national lawmaker Paula Oliveto described Canicoba Corral as a “corrupt and unscrupulous judge, who cannot justify his assets.”
Macri, who left office in December, also faces trouble on another judicial front. Veteran federal judge María Romilda Servini de Cubría confirmed this week that she is investigating the ex-president’s telephone calls following a denunciation by the fiercely pro-government television news channel C5N.
Servini on Wednesday rejected a request from defence lawyers acting for the former president who were seeking to quash the proceedings. The judge ratified that the analysis of calls between the ex-president and former AFIP tax bureau chiefs Alberto Abad and Leandro Cuccioli, Fabián “Pepín” Rodríguez Simón, Mario Quintana and José Torello throughout the years 2016, 2017 and 2018, as well as the first eight months of 2019, would go ahead.
The judge said that she saw no reason to accept the defence argument that national security was at stake.
The investigation began last year with the denunciation before the courts from Fabián De Sousa, the co-owner of Grupo Indalo (which includes C5N) along with Kirchnerite-aligned businessman and fellow co-owner Cristóbal López. The latter has alleged in testimony that he was pressured by Macri to give his administration less hostile media coverage, on pain of suffering administration from AFIP.
On Tuesday, in another explosive development, C5N broadcast telephone messages from Darío Nieto, Macri’s private secretary, in the context of the illegal espionage trial against the previous administration.
The messages included exchanges with pseudo-lawyer Marcelo D'Alessio (a central figure in various extortion and espionage cases) and references to presumed irregularities in Banco Nación loans granted to the troubled soy-crushing firm Vicentin during the previous administration.
Nieto protested the “absolute irregularity” of his telephone calls being divulged although City Hall admitted that in late 2019 Banco Ciudad had been prodded by the national government to lend money to Vicentin, although finally deciding against it. The secretary denied any acquaintance with D’Alessio, charging that the C5N exposé was a smear campaign mounted by Kirchnerites seeking impunity for their own corruption.