Federal Courts continue to work to determine who was behind the hacking of key justices and political leaders, together with mobile phones in the name of members of the Supreme Court. The first indictment was signed recently against one of the accused, aged 20, charged with fraud.
His name is Santiago Machado, one of the arrested in the case for lines being in the name of justices and other members of the Judiciary. Last Friday, Federal Justice Marcelo Martínez de Giorgi signed an order garnishing 95,000 pesos from the young man and remanding him.
This came after it was proved that at least between 20 December 2022 and 23 May 2023 a great number of mobile phone lines were unlawfully registered in the name of Justices Rosatti and Rosenkrantz, Misiones Governor Oscar Herrera Ahuad and other people without their consent. The investigation was able to confirm that Machado, from the city of Garupa, Misiones, had two lines in his name, “connected to the same IMEI (devices) where numerous lines obtained unlawfully also worked”.
Ultimately, the young man sold SIM cards and cheap data in a poor area. These cards were already activated and registered in the names of the victims, such as those listed above, together with Posadas Federal Justice Verónica Skanata, Misiones provincial deputy Hugo Mario Passalacqua and the head of Social Security Bureau ANSES, María Fernanda Raverta.
In the case of lines in the name of the Chief Justice of the Court, 6,590 communications were recorded.
First indictee’s testimony
In his enquiry, Machado claimed he did not know the names of the victims and assured the court that he had not activated or used the lines in their names.
He also said that his mobile phone, where many of the irregular lines were found, was lent frequently to a friend who, among other things, used it with other SIM cards because it had better reception. Yet the activation of the lines and the Q&A to activate the lines were all done from his neighbourhood. That was of interest in the investigation.
But Martínez de Giorgi found more arguments to underpin his indictment. For example, the inconsistencies between the evidence gathered and Machado’s account in his enquiry, which he attributed to an “attempt to improve his procedural situation and release himself from liability in terms of the manoeuvres” being investigated, according to the indictment accessed by PERFIL.
Por example, it was determined that Machado had two lines in his name instead of one, as he claimed in his statement. Those lines affected, according to the investigation, the “numerous lines obtained unlawfully”. In order to trace the IMEI codes to the lines, the work of the Office for Judicial Assistance in Complex Crimes and Organised Crime (DAJUDECO, by its Spanish acronym) was key.
It was also decided to keep him in prison, as there is believed to be a danger of the case being hindered.
In order to further understand Machado’s activities, it is necessary to review the statement of another detainee. In the mobile phones owned by Nelly Soledad Valdés, a 39-year-old woman from Posadas, Misiones, her lines and others in the name of Skanata and Rosatti, among others, were affected. When asked during the enquiry the reason, she said she had no idea.
“I buy activated SIM cards in the neighbourhood (...) They come with 1,000 or 1,500 pesos of credit. I mostly use them for my daughter to watch videos (...) Those SIM cards last a month. After that, they can be topped up that month. I have no idea in whose name they are", the woman stated. Her case was dismissed by Justice Martínez de Giorgi.
The manoeuvre to access the key justices’ lines
Court sources explained that the investigation had two connected cases which are differently complex. Whereas the one dealing with the lines in the name of justices and other officials has been practically established in terms of the manoeuvre used, the other leg is case 427/2023.
It investigates hacking with the method known as SIM SWAP which helped gain unlawful access to the telephones of Cassation Justices Gustavo Hornos and Mariano Borinsky, and judges from Criminal Federal Court no 2, Andrés Basso and Rodrigo Giménez Uriburu. This method was used by Elías Ezequiel Nuñes Pinheiro, aged 22, who confessed to the hacking of the former minister of Justice and Security in the City of Buenos Aires, Marcelo D'Alessandro, and by former federal policeman Pedro Ariel Zanchetta, both arrested in this case.
Regardless of both cases and manoeuvres involving different people and different purposes, there is a common thread in both cases, and they are the questions about the victims being high members of the Judiciary and Misiones officials.
It is worth remembering that in the Nuñes Pinheiro case, tried last week, where counsellors Marcos Kapko and Sebastián Noguera filed for release of the detainee, which was dismissed by the trial court and then the Federal Appellate Court, the accused testified that a Telegram user called ElJuanxd had commissioned the hacking of a series of lines, among them D'Alessandro’s (investigated by Buenos Aires courts and with jurisdictional conflict); and also those of Borinsky, Giménez Uriburu, Basso and Hornos.
The case file helped establish a modus operandi which to date consists of three steps: obtaining information on the victims by personal data banks such as Nosis, Veraz o Latinoamerica Data; taking control of the lines via SIM SWAP; and unlawful access to such message applications as Telegram or WhatsApp.
Taking control of those applications meant access to messages, photos and other personal files, conversation history, theft of the victims’ identity and access to private information with criminal intent. It was equally serious that they detected the demand of sums of money by impersonating one of the victims, Justice Giménez Uriburu, one of the magistrates who sentenced Vice President Cristina Kirchner in the Vialidad case (the investigation of fraudulent Santa Cruz highway contracts).
This judge lost control of his line between 8:32 and 8:35 pm on 8 September 2022 until 14 September 2022. In that period, undue requests for sums of money were made to the magistrates contacts on Telegram and WhatsApp. The destination of those sums of money was a Mercado Pago account, as recorded in a DAJUDECO report referenced by PERFIL.
That report led to the holder of that bank account, J.M.B., who was detained, searched and summoned. According to court sources, he denied the manoeuvre, explained his banking transactions and testified before courts that he did not know what they were talking about. The statement was thought to be convincing and he was released.
That being the case, in this part of the investigation, the two names involved are Núñes Pinheiro and policeman Zanchetta, who was found with over two thousand requests for personal information from judges on the database Sudamérica Data. Their behaviour clearly shows the intent to obtain information from the magistrates.