Kirchnerite business moguls Cristóbal López and Fabián De Sousa, as well as the former head of the AFIP tax bureau chief, Ricardo Echegaray, are one step closer to facing a public oral trial.
The trio were called to provide evidence in their defence against huge tax evasion accusations this Thursday by the courts.
Judicial authorities accuse the businessmen and ex-government official of seeking to evade as much as eight billion pesos in taxes (some US$450 million) owed to the state during former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration.
The missing funds come from the ITC gas tax, which relates to their energy company, Oil Combustibles SA, which is owned by Grupo Indalo, the duo's conglomerate. For several years, the firm didn’t pay the (ITC) gas tax, racking up a huge debt with the federal tax agency, seemingly with the government's permission.
“Of the 55 months investigated, the owners of Grupo Indalo generated a debt with the AFIP of about eight billion pesos, due to the lack of tax payments,” read a judicial ruling. When taking into account due interest payments, inflation, and devaluations, the AFIP and current prosecution estimate that the debt now owed are more than 20 billion pesos.
Judicial authorities accuse López and De Sousa of using the millions of evaded tax dollars to pay for the expansion of the Indalo media group. That media empire is in severe financial difficulties and has shuttered numerous outlets over the past few years, including the Buenos Aires Herald. According to the charges against the businessmen, López and De Sousa only paid the ITC for seven months before cutting payments.
“They organised a complex manoeuvre of corruption within and outside of AFIP,” the charge sheet alleged.
Investigations into the alleged crimes determined that Oil Combustibles SA was a society dedicated to committing fraud and that the non-payment of the tax led to an “illegal accumulation of debt.” The criminal complaint lso considered that the permission for “irregular payment plans,” given on the part of the AFIP, was illegal.
Federal Oral Courthouse No. 3 issued its ruling on Thursday, giving the duo 10 days to provide the evidence in preparation for a public trial. Presiding judges Fernando Machado Pelloni, Javier Ríos and Andrés Basso opened the court so that the relevant actors could examine the legal actions and evidence offered. The submission of evidence is the last step before judicial authorities can set a date to begin the public oral trial against the defendants.
In the meantime, both López and De Sousa will continue to remain in jail. Both of them returned to prison on April 27 after having spent six weeks out of prison, due to a ruling by the Federal Criminal Cassation court that confirmed they should be remanded in custody. Previously, judicial authorities had revoked their initial bail, arguing that both businessmen could interfere with the investigation if they were released and there was a risk they could flee the country.
In the brief period, they were free, President Mauricio Macri had complained about the ruling. “This is an outrage,” he declared in a TV interview.
Their trial, meanwhile, draws closer.