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ARGENTINA | 16-03-2018 18:18

Courts free Cristóbal López, who remains accused of tax fraud

Kirchnerist businessman Cristóbal López and his partner Fabián de Sousa were freed on Friday after an appellate court ruled in their favor, despite confirming accusations of tax fraud.

After three months behind bars, Kirchnerist businessman Cristóbal López recovered his freedom on Friday, while he remains prosecuted for tax evasion to the tune of $8 billion. López, along with business partner Fabián de Sousa, received even more good news: the appellate court that handed them a “get out of jail free” card also modified the accusations against the owners of Grupo Indalo, accusing them plainly of tax evasion, rather than defrauding the state, meaning the potential sentence could be more lenient. Former taxman Ricardo Echegaray, prosecuted but not jailed, saw accusations against him confirmed.


López walked out of Ezeiza prison minutes before 5pm on Friday. He had spent the last 93 days detained after handing himself in at the Edificio Libertador—which houses the Defense Ministry—towards the end of December. López and de Sousa were accused of interfering with the investigation by Federal Judge Julián Ercoloini, who used the controversial faculty of preventive prison for the move. Judge Ercolini’s investigation centered on the improper use of $8 billion in fuel taxes through Oil Combustibles, which Grupo Indalo’s owners avoided paying to the AFIP tax authority, with Echegaray’s complicit approval, according to the accusations. Thus, López and de Sousa faced criminal charges for “aggravated fraudulent administration in perjury of the State.”


The appellate court’s Friday ruling was extremely controversial, albeit expected. In a split decision, Judges Jorge Ballesteros and Eduardo Farah voted in favor of freeing López, while Leopoldo Bruglia dissented. With preventive prison already being a divisive issue at the Comodoro Py federal tribunal, the rulings downgrading of the accusations weaken arguments in related corruption cases involving former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, as jurisdiction in tax evasion cases falls outside of federal criminal court.


As Clarín’s Nicolás Wiñazki explained, López and de Sousa paid millions of pesos to the Kirchner family through rent contracts with Los Sauces, the ex presidential family’s real estate firm. Los Sauces had no declared employees nor headquarters and only two clients: Grupo Indalo and Lázaro Báez, who is also jailed for corruption. The argument is that in exchange for getting taxman Echegaray to allow Indalo to not pay the fuel tax (worth some $20 billion correcting for inflation, according to Wiñazki’s estimates), Cristóbal and de Sousa paid the Kirchners. Going one step further, Wiñazki directly notes that Judge Ballestero was generally aligned with the Kirchners.

 

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