The former mayor of the provincial capital of Paraná, Sergio Varisco, has been sentenced to six-and-a-half years in jail for drug-trafficking crimes.
Varisco, a member of the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR) aligned with former president Mauricio Macri’s Cambiemos coalition who ran for office this year, was also handed a fine of 200,000 pesos for enabling the sale of narcotics.
The Federal Oral Court (TOF) of Paraná said the conviction is a result of the unification of two trials probing drug-trafficking and links to municipal officials in the region.
Judges Lilia Carneo, Noemí Berros and Roberto López Arango said the cases address “drug law violations by the same criminal organisation” and concluded that the ex-mayor was "necessary participant in the commercialisation" and sale of drugs.
Prosecutors had asked for 10 years behind bars and a 250,000-peso fine for Varisco, who stood trial alongside another 31 individuals.
The former official, who left office less than a month ago and previously served as a national deputy representing Entre Ríos Province, denies the allegations. He ran for re-election this year, losing out to Partido Justicalista (PJ) candidate Adan Humberto Bahl.
"I never sold or used drugs. I am angry about so many lies," Varisco said in his last appearance before the court.
The Radical official has been granted house arrest until his sentence is confirmed. Varisco, who has claimed the allegations against him are part of a “dirty campaign” against him led by national officials, confirmed on Monday that he will appeal the conviction.
Varisco was first charged in 2018 under the framework of a investigation that began two years earlier, probing alleged links between municipal officials and a criminal organisation headed by brothers Daniel 'Tavi' Celis and Miguel 'Cholo Celis.
Investigators were originally looking into reports that marijuana was being distributed via municipal garbage trucks and reportedly found the mayor’s name in notebooks kept by drug-traffickers.
A total of 32 people were charged through two cases, including figures from the local administration. Twenty-six were eventually convicted, including ex-local councillor Pablo Hernández and ex-regional security minister Griselda Bordeira, who were handed five-year jail terms. Daniel Celis was handed 13 years in jail.
According to prosecutors, Varisco provided money that allowed traffickers to buy up stocks of cocaine, which were then sold in Paraná and Concordia. They allege Varisco reached “an agreement” with Daniel Celis in September 2017, which saw the then-mayor provide 50,000 pesos a month “to finance” the sale of drugs. Hernández and Bordeira are also believed to have funded drug purchases, according to prosecutors, Pagina/12 reported.
Prosecutor José Ignacio Candioti charged that Varisco had been part of “a true organisation composed of multiple members” that was dedicated to the commercial sale of narcotics “on a large scale.”
Varisco is the son of Humberto Varisco, the Entre Ríos-born cyclist who found fame in the 1940s and 1950s before entering politics. Varisco Snr served as mayor of Paraná on two occasions, from 1983 to 1987 and from 1995 to 1999, before being succeeded by his son, who served in his father’s government as his private secretary.