The Federal Criminal Cassation Court has confirmed the 68-month prison sentence against former Federal Planning minister Julio De Vido for his responsibility in the 2012 Once rail disaster.
The former government official, who served under the administrations of both Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, was convicted on malfeasance and fraud charges in October, 2018.
Last September the Supreme Court had upheld the 2015 convictions of former Transport secretary Juan Pablo Schiavi and 20 other defendants for their part in the tragedy, which claimed 51 lives and injured over 700 people.
Some legal experts see that ruling as freeing the Supreme Court from any obligation to intervene in De Vido’s case and if the justices do not admit any appeal, the ex-minister could be re-arrested. His age and health problems would make him a candidate for house arrest rather than prison, however.
De Vido, 71, never served any of this sentence because he was then remanded in custody in three other cases but he was granted house arrest last December and freed in March.
In their ruling last Tuesday, the Cassation Court further accepted the self-exclusion of the Anti-Corruption Office (OA, in its Spanish acronym) from this case.
De Vido’s defence lawyers are appealing the Cassation Court ruling. For now the Kirchnerite politician will not have to return to prison.
At the trial, De Vido’s lawyers called for former official’s acquittal while the prosecution demanded a nine-year prison sentence and the families of the rail victims 10 years.
Fifty-one people, among them a pregnant woman, were killed and nearly 800 injured when a passenger train plummeted into the Once railway terminal during peak hour in Buenos Aires’ Balvanera neighbourhood on February 22, 2012. Around 1,000 passengers were on board when the crowded eight-carriage train, whose brakes were not activated, hit the buffers at the end of the Sarmiento line.
The railway accident was the third most serious of its kind in Argentine history measured through the number of victims. The Sarmiento railway line transports around half a million people every day.
According to Tuesday’s 335-page ruling issued by the court, "De Vido lent an essential collaboration for the businessmen of the TBA [Trenes de Buenos Aires] concessionaires to mismanage fraudulently the state assets leased to them.”
The court’s authorities determined that “De Vido’s connivance in the fraudulent manoeuvre carried out by the concessionaires becomes evident upon examining that despite effective knowledge of the lack of maintenance of the rolling stock and naturally of the adverse consequences for the public purse, as the head of the ministry in charge of transport and the authority for the concession contract, he did nothing to revert the situation described above."
“We understand that the necessary complicity of De Vido in the fraudulent manoeuvre carried out by those in charge of TBA has been verified by the ruling under review here,” maintained judges Eduardo Riggi, Liliana Catucci and Gustavo Hornos, confirming the sentence issued by the Tribunal Oral Federal (TOF) 4 court.
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“The various aspects in the ruling make evident the complicity (which we judge to be primary) supplied by the ex-minister, who despite the tools within his reach to stop or prevent the policy implemented (which he had every way of knowing) did nothing, thus favouring the fraudulent manoeuvre deployed by the co-authors.”
The judges maintained that such crimes had been “verified by the non-fulfilment of the obligation to maintain and improve the assets leased from the state for the exploitation of the Sarmiento line railway service which those in charge of TBA (with the collaboration of others) carried out as those entrusted with the administration, according to the duties arising from the contract of the concession.”
The Cassation Court ruling recalled that the TOF 4 verdict had explained that “this lack of maintenance of the rolling stock was reflected in a lower useful life, thus obliging the state to restock those assets integrally, expenses which, had those assets been duly maintained by the concessionaire, would not have been necessary.”
“They responded to the appalling conditions in which the service was exploited on the basis of the verified business policies and the lack of serious controls by the Transport Department.”