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ARGENTINA | 02-03-2019 09:53

Jan 25th-Feb 3rd: What We Learned This Week

What has happened the last seven days?

THIS WEEK IN CORRUPTION...

Ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner may have seen the corruption trial scheduled for last Tuesday postponed until May but the respite was short-lived because on Thursday Federal Judge Julián Ercolini ordered the trial of the ‘Hotesur’ case in which the senator is the chief defendant alongside both her children, construction tycoon Lázaro Báez and accountant Víctor Manzanares, among a total of 14 defendants. Hotesur was a Patagonian hotel chain purchased by late ex-president Néstor Kirchner in 2008 and (according to ex-deputy Margarita Stolbizer) used for money-laundering to funnel bribes for the award of public works contracts via payments for unoccupied hotel space. Elsewhere, prosecutor Carlos Stornelli has been summoned for next Thursday morning to the Dolores courtroom of Federal Judge Alejo Ramos Padilla for questioning over the attempted extortion of self-styled lawyer Marcelo D’Alessio, to whom his name has been linked. Stornelli, the prosecutor in the main corruption trials against Fernández de Kirchner, categorically denies all charges. On Wednesday, Judge Sebastián Casanello ordered the trial of lobbyist Jorge “Corcho” Rodríguez as a middleman in graft dealings with the scandal-ridden Brazilian firm Odebrecht alongside such big businessmen of the construction sector as Carlos Wagner, Aldo Roggio and Tito Biagini (Cartellone), as well as jailed ex-minister Julio de Vido and various former Federal Planning Ministry officials. The judge also called for the extradition of nine Odebrecht executives from Brazil.

TUCUMÁN RAPE VICTIM HAS C-SECTION

An 11-year-old girl in Tucumán who was raped by her grandmother’s partner had her 23-week pregnancy interrupted in the form of a caesarean section birth at Eva Perón Hospital on Tuesday night, sparking outrage from feminist and human rights groups. Provincial authorities defended their decision “to save two lives” even if the 600-gram baby has scant chances of survival, despite widespread reports the family had requested a legal abortion weeks before.

STATE OF THE NATION

President Mauricio Macri yesterday delivered his last state-of-the-nation address of his current term to open this year’s sessions of Congress (see Editorial and Pages 4 and 6 for more).

DIRE ECONOMIC STATE

This year’s dire sequence of economic news took a turn for the worse on Wednesday when the INDEC statistics bureau announced negative growth of 2.6 percent for 2018 with the final December data, as well as the loss of 191,300 jobs. Optimists at the Economy Ministry pointed out that the December data represented a 0.7 percent pickup on the previous month along with a seven percent inter-annual slump. Milder negative growth is generally forecast for this year. The news accelerated the increase in the minimum wage (to 12,500 pesos) scheduled for June to this month.

ATTACK ON RABBI

In the early hours of this week Chief Rabbi Gabriel Davidovich was badly beaten up in his Balvanera home by a gang who broke several ribs. Although the seemingly obvious conclusion, Davidovich was not entirely convinced that this was a purely anti-Semitic attack since his assailants told him: “We know you’re the AMIA rabbi” (referring to the 1994 terrorist attack), thus pointing to a possible political motivation and even a bid to influence the AMIA trial verdict due three days later (see right column). Since the gang robbed money and other items, the attack also qualified as an ordinary crime. Some religious observers even hinted at bad blood between orthodox and reform Jews.

JAITT DEATH DOMINATES

Natacha Jaitt, 41, who exploded into notoriety with her vehement paedophilia accusations on the Mirtha Legrand luncheon talk show only 11 months ago, was found dead last weekend at a suburban centre for social and corporate events with traces of cocaine on her nude body, thus sparking the biggest media buzz in a week not otherwise lacking news.

CLEAN FOR A DECADE

Interior Minister Rogelio Frigerio announced on Wednesday that future immigrants would have to certify their lack of a criminal record over the last 10 years before being permitted residence. Frigerio said that Argentina had received a record intake of almost 700,000 immigrants (including an estimated influx of 300,000 Venezuelans) in the last three years although expulsions for “irregularities” had also risen eightfold since 2015. The minister also hailed the health reciprocity agreement signed last week between Jujuy and Bolivia. Various pundits linked the timing of the announcement with this year’s elections.

AMIA TRIAL

Acquittals outnumbered convictions among the high-profile defendants in the four-year trial investigating the cover-up of the 1994 terrorist bomb destruction of the AMIA Jewish community centre when the verdicts were read out last Thursday. Senator Carlos Menem (president at the time), controversial former Federal Police chief Jorge “Fino” Palacios and former DAIA Jewish association umbrella chairman Rubén Beraja were among the five acquittals while prison sentences were handed down to ex-judge Juan José Galeano (six years) and former SIDE intelligence chief Hugo Anzorreguy (54 months) among a total of eight convictions. Galeano was accused of bribing car dealer Carlos Telleldín (himself the recipient of a 42-month sentence on Thursday) with US$400,000 of SIDE funds into testimony incriminating himself and others in an effort to divert attention from an alleged Syrian connection supposedly involving Menem. Trial prosecutors Eamon Mullen and José Barbaccia were also given suspended sentences of two years even though they criticised the proceedings at the time and though their late colleague Alberto Nisman (who had initiated this investigation) had requested their exemption from this trial.

TEACHERS STRIKE

The CTERA teachers union on Thursday called a nationwide strike for March 6-8 following the Carnival holidays, thus ensuring no classes all next week. The decision followed the breakdown of talks after an offer of 2019 salaries being index-linked to inflation plus an extra five percent.

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