One of Argentina’s most powerful and wealthy businessman, Paolo Rocca, received good news in Federal Court this week when two federal judges moved to lift an indictment against him related to the sweeping cuadernos (“notebooks”) corruption investigation.
The cuadernos probe – which is based on records allegedly kept by Oscar Centeno, a former driver and chaffeur detailed to key officials in the Planning Ministry – is investigating an alleged sweeping bribery scheme during the administrations of Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
The notebooks came to light after they were the subject of investigations by the La Nación local daily.
Rocca, the Italian-born CEO of Italian-Argentine construction conglomerate Techint, was indicted late last year by Judge Claudio Bonadio, charged with being part of an alleged illicit criminal association. That pertained to admissions by former Techint employees that they paid illegal bribes back in 2008.
However, Rocca appealed the decision in the courts, claiming he wasn’t aware of any illegal payments from his company or its staff.
Following the 66-year-old’s appeal, Judges Leopoldo Bruglia and Pablo Bertuzzi this week concluded that there wasn’t sufficient proof to establish whether Rocca had been involved or not in the payment of bribes. They asked Bonadio to keep investigating, to establish the actual role of the businessman in the bribery ring.
"Rocca's responsibility, based fundamentally on its hierarchical positioning within the holding [company], lacks the necessary and sufficient support to link it to this process," the judges wrote.
ADMISSIONS OF GUILT
Rocca appeared before Bonadio back in October, where he reportedly said he had no knowledge of illegal payments and denied having paid any bribes. He had found himself before the judge after key employees at the firm admitted their involvement in corrupt practices.
Techint's former corporate director, Luis Betnaza, said he had paid bribes to Kirchnerite officials in 2008 totalling at least US$1 million, as part of an attempt to win the government's support in a battle to smooth compensation over the expropriation by the Venezuelan government of the steel firm Sidor, which Techint operated in Venezuela. Techint was later compensated with a payment of US$1.95 billion for the company.
Betnaza and Techint’s former management director, Héctor Zabaleta, who also admitted he was involved in the payments, are both under indictment from Bonadio.
Betzana and Zabaleta’s confession led to Bonadio charging Rocca, with the judge arguing that the the head of the company could not ignore illegal payments made by his employees. The judge also initially argued Rocca had a penal responsibility in the case, a theory that was later then dismissed by the courts.
Techint is facing several accusations related to the alleged payment of bribes, not only in Argentina but also in Brazil, Italy and the United States.
In Italy, prosecutors have already identified Swiss bank accounts that were allegedly used to pay bribes to government officials in Brazil, in order to obtain contracts with energy giant Petrobras.The Security and Exchange Commission in the United States is also following that investigation.