Monday, July 22, 2024

ARGENTINA | 29-10-2021 23:49

Illegal espionage case: Judge sets new court date for Macri

Media scrum set to descend on Dolores once again; Former president must attend hearing on November 3, rules judge; President lifts secrecy rules.

Former president Mauricio Macri has been handed a new court date to respond to illegal espionage allegations: midday, next Wednesday, November 3.

Dolores Judge Martín Bava yesterday summoned the former president to another court hearing, as he seeks evidence regarding allegations Macri’s 2015-2019 government spied on relatives of 44 crew-members who died in the sinking of the ARA San Juan submarine.

Macri initially appeared before Bava last Thursday. But the hearing, which took place some 200 kilometres (124 miles) south of the capital in Buenos Aires Province, was dramatically postponed within minutes, after the former president's lawyer argued the court did not “have the authority" to lift secrecy provisions on state intelligence to allow proper testimony.

The judge subsequently asked President Alberto Fernández to authorise the lifting of confidentiality measures, a request the Peronist leader complied with last Thursday before departing to Rome for the G20 Leaders Summit, issuing a decree to that effect.

Macri strenuously denies allegations he was aware of or ordered any illegal espionage and claims the government, under pressure following poor results in recent primary elections, is seeking to persecute him ahead of crucial upcoming midterm elections on November 14. 

Speaking yesterday, the former president said “they believe that with my prosecution they will turn around the electoral result," as he rejected claims of wrongdoing.

“I did not spy on anyone or send someone to spy on anyone, I have never carried out illegal espionage and my government did not carry out illegal espionage,” said the 62-year-old.

This will be the fourth time Macri has been summoned by the judge. He did not attend the first two, which were issued when he was out of the country. His defence team’s request for questioning to take place via Zoom videoconference software was rejected, with the judge ordering that he must attend in person.

According to reports, Macri intends to present a voluntary statement during testimony, without answering questions.



The ARA San Juan submarine disappeared mysteriously in November 2017. When it was found just over a year later, it was at a depth of more than 900 metres below the South Atlantic waves in an underwater canyon of the continental shelf, some 460 kilometres southeast of the Patagonian city of Comodoro Rivadavia. 

It had been crushed from an implosion apparently caused by a technical fault. Authorities eventually decided against attempting to refloat it.

The illegal espionage claims date back to 2020, when Cristina Caamaño, then the government-appointed trustee of AFI federal intelligence agency, filed a criminal complaint saying she had uncovered evidence showing that relatives of the late crew were spied on during Macri’s time in office.

According to reporting by Perfil, Caamaño submitted 29 files discovered on three hard drives at AFI offices in Mar del Plata as evidence in her initial complaint.

Family members of the 44 crew members told investigators they were followed and wiretapped, filmed and intimidated into abandoning any claims related to the incident.

Macri, 62, is accused of ordering the espionage. He risks between three and 10 years in jail for allegedly violating Argentina's intelligence laws.

No new hearing date has been set.

Macri led the country from 2015 to 2019 and is now the leader of Argentina's centre-right opposition coalition, Juntos por el Cambio, the successor of his own Cambiemos front. 

On Thursday, Lanusse questioned the timing of the hearing, observing its proximity to key legislative elections next month.


‘Using a tragedy’

Macri addressed more than 100 supporters who had gathered outside the court to greet him, and accused the authorities of "using a tragedy" for political purposes during a campaign for November 14 elections for half the seats in the Chamber of Deputies and a third of the Senate. 

"We are calm. We know what we did and our good intentions," he told his followers, before denouncing "a culture of dark power that uses a tragedy to harm" opponents. He called for a return to "a healthy culture of power, which includes an impartial justice system."

"If they think that these two years of slander, aggression, persecution – almost a permanent obsession with me – are going to undermine and diminish my commitment to you, they are very mistaken," declared the former president, who was joined at the rally by opposition politicians including Patricia Bullrich, Jorge Macri and Fernando Iglesias.

"We hope that Macri... will tell us the truth about why we were illegally spied on," Luis Tagliapietra, the father of 27-year-old crew-member Alejandro Damian Tagliapietra, told AFP.

He expressed frustration over the suspension of the hearing. "It is more down to political pressure exerted by the leaders of Juntos [por el Cambio] than a strictly legal issue," said the lawyer, who said the former president could have given testimony without breaking secrecy rules, especially as he had already prepared a statement.

Macri has repeatedly denied ordering surveillance of the families and says the claims against him are “false accusations” pushed by the government. Officials have denied those claims.

“It is evident that he [Macri] is trying to put on a kind of show with his entourage in Dolores,” Justice Minister Martín Soría told the El Destape radio station on Thursday.

Germán Garavano, who served as justice minister in Macri's government, described the case as "more political than legal" in comments to another local station, Colonia AM550, 

Judge Martín Bava has ordered the prosecution of AFI secret service heads Gustavo Arribas and Silvia Majdalani, who reported to Macri at the time.

Bava initially subpoenaed Macri earlier this month to testify about his role in the alleged espionage but the former president was in the United States when he got the order to testify. He later travelled to Qatar, missing two hearings, before agreeing to attend court on Thursday.

The judge said in a letter that "the then-president was fully aware of the follow-up carried out by the Federal Intelligence Agency regarding the relatives of the crew members" of the submarine.

Macri, in turn, has criticised what he called "the incompetence of Judge Bava... and irregularities of the judge, denounced for possible falsehoods in another case."

On Wednesday, Macri's legal team lost a legal challenge that sought to strip the case from the magistrate on the grounds of impartiality. The Federal Chamber of Mar del Plata issued a resolution rejecting the claim.

Earlier this year, in March, two former Argentine military chiefs were sanctioned over the sinking tragedy.

Retired admiral Marcelo Srur was handed "45 days of arrest" for having given the Defence Ministry an "incomplete" picture of what happened.

Claudio Villamide, the former commander of the Submarine Force, was dismissed after he was found guilty of a "lack of care and neglect of the troops and equipment under his charge."

Two active captains were given detention periods of 20 and 30 days and the former head of a naval base in the south of the country was detained for 15 days.



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