President Alberto Fernández on Tuesday attended a conciliatory hearing with PRO chair Patricia Bullrich, whom he had sued for her allegations of attempted graft in Covid-19 vaccine purchases.
Both showed up but at separate times, so that there was no face-to-face encounter.
"We already knew that there would be no retraction because Bullrich had said so, so I thought I’d preserve the president from being exposed to a provocation. Bullrich came to smear the president’s honour and she’s going to pay for that in court," Fernández’s lawyer Gregorio Dalbón told the pro-government C5N news channel.
Fernández has sued Bullrich for 100 million pesos (US$819,000 at the current exchange rate), which will be donated to the Malbrán Institute, according to Dalbón.
"This is a civil lawsuit for damages [because] the president never took any kind of bribe nor influence-trafficking. Both the president and Pfizer lab have said so," explained the lawyer.
Upon emerging from the courtroom, Bullrich said that she had ratified her denunciation to the judge.
"The hearing did not exist as such, unfortunately I could not tell him to his face what I came to say because the president went into hiding," she affirmed to the press.
Interviewed by the La Nación+ television channel last May, Bullrich had accused former health minister Ginés González García of stalling on the signature of a contract with Pfizer lab for the acquisition of vaccines against Covid-19 in an attempt to gouge a bribe, adding: "The President was not unaware."
"I haven’t the slightest doubt of that and furthermore, that is criminal," Bullrich had declared.
The accusation was rejected by the president, his ex-minister and also Pfizer. The US pharmaceutical firm issued a communiqué that it "had not received petitions for undue payments at any time."
When the first vaccines against Covid-19 became available, Argentina advanced in the purchase of Sputnik, AstraZeneca and Sinopharm but dragged its feet on the contract with the Pfizer lab, despite having a right to expect priority in its distribution due to the large number of volunteers participating in phase three testing.
The government then argued that Pfizer’s conditions clashed with Argentine law but finally last July the purchase of that vaccine was agreed.