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ARGENTINA | 12-10-2023 12:49

Juan Nápoli: The man who is Javier Milei’s link to big business

Banker Juan Nápoli is a senatorial candidate for La Libertad Avanza – he is also libertarian presidential hopeful Javier Milei's liaison with big business.

Juan Nápoli is a senatorial candidate for La Libertad Avanza, but these days he is not working on the bills he would like to introduce to Congress. The banker has another mission: to put libertarian presidential hopeful Javier Milei in touch with big business. With more than 30 years’ experience in the world of markets, his personal relationships are quite a valuable contribution to a new political space whose leaders create mistrust in a sector of the establishment.

Nápoli, president of the Banco de Valores (Securities Bank) investment bank and head spokesman at the Adeba Argentine Banks’ Association, met Milei at a lunch of the IDEA Argentine Institute for Business Development colloquium in 2022, but only joined La Libertad Avanza in June. The offer came via his friend, La Libertad Avanza's mayoral candidate in Buenos Aires City, Ramiro Marra, and although he became a key middleman between the space and the rich and powerful almost immediately, his relationship with the presidential candidate is not so close. They have met a few times in person, and always with Karina Milei present. Yet the banker does talk to “The boss” constantly, sources say.

Nápoli's name made headlines recently when he headed Milei’s so-called “counter-summit” during IDEA’s colloquium in Mar del Plata this year. Within his sphere they assure that it had been organised well in advance.

However, a friend of Nápoli's – who is still a bit annoyed that the banker has joined the libertarians – said that account is not complete, since Carlos Melconian, Patricia Bullrich’s economist, had been invited to speak on October 5, but was disregarded when the involvement of 'El León' ("the Lion," Milei’s nickname) was confirmed.

At any rate, nobody was really angry. In business and politics they are all old friends who understand the rules. Nápoli and his circle are pragmatic people first and foremost. Although this is his first run for office, he is not exactly new to power either.

 

Banks and football

Nápoli studied Business Administration at the Universidad Católica and has a Master’s Degree in Management of Financial Assets from the Escuela Superior de Economía y Administración de Empresas (ESEADE), an institution founded in 1978 by Alberto Benegas Lynch, Milei’s “national hero."

His CV’s accounts for Nápoli's connections. He also heads such financial instituions and firms as Nápoli Inversiones, Valores Administradora and CAUSO SA.

In addition to his work in the financial field, Nápoli is also involved in football. He was a board member of River Plate during Rodolfo D’Onofrio’s term in office as president. He did not take part in the last elections, but Jorge Brito later appointed him as advisor to the president. They are very close. The current president of the club had also appointed him as board member of the ADEBA banking association.

His involvement in ADEBA was the gateway to his trip to Marrakesh for the International Monetary Fund's key meetings. The organisation invited him, he registered with the IMF and required clearance from Argentina's Central Bank.

Neither Melconian nor the current economy minister and presidential candidate, Sergio Massa, travelled. While in the libertarian universe the news was celebrated, Milei's rivals played it down.

“We already speak constantly, they have to show up," said sources.

 

Friends in high places

The trip to Marrakech is not the first one made by Nápoli as Milei’s envoy abroad. In September, accompanied by economist Darío Epstein, he met in the United States with Wall Street executives at the home of Gerardo 'Gerry' Mato, a former HSBC banker. Subsequent repercussions were not ideal – according to reports, most businessmen who attended left with the same concern they had when they went in, especially regarding dollarisation plans and the potential stability of a Milei administration. Regardless, something was clear: Nápoli showed his new mates that he has pull. Within his sphere they said he was able to set up the meeting because he is a friend of Mato’s.

All sort of speculation about that meeting has circulated, especially as to how aware Mauricio Macri was about it. The same sources denied a version of events that held that the La Libertad Avanza envoys stated to the businessmen that the former president would guarantee Milei’s governability. They did acknowledge that Nápoli has a cordial relationship with the founder of the opposition PRO party and that the duo text each other from time to time. They also claimed that there was talk on WhatsApp of a personal meeting which did not materialise.

Nápoli’s friendships were also key at the lunch he put together in Mar del Plata during the IDEA colloquium. According to reporter Alejandro Rebossio, who covered the event, Daniel Funes de Rioja (Argentine Industrial Union), Marcelo Figueiras (Laboratorios Richmond) and Martín Cabrales were three in attendance, albeit a bit late after hearing from Patricia Bullrich. Other business leaders such as Patricio Supervielle (Grupo Supervielle) or Alejandro Cerviño (Banco Comafi) were there from the start. 

Nápoli is more than familiar with IDEA. Besides the gathering he organised at the restaurant Furia, he also attended the main event, Banco Galicia’s private lunch, where the president of the Central Bank, Miguel Ángel Pesce, was in attendance, and a separate Banco Macro dinner. The balance of what happened in Mar del Plata varies depending on the source: La Libertad Avanza claims that the fact that the guest capacity was exceeded was a sign of the expectation generated by the libertarian; according to his adversaries, the number of businessmen attending was not as high as the media hype around it.  

The relationships of Milei's fixer goes beyond the financial and banking world. One of the first images of him on Google shows him standing next to Bullrich and Nicolás Caputo. Within Nápoli’s sphere they said that the picture, from 2016, was merely an institutional gesture since, as a secretary of the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange, he had offered the vice-presidency of the entity to the Macrista businessman.

Before Caputo, Nápoli had offered that position to Nicolás Scioli, the brother of former Buenos Aires Province governor and ex-presidential candidate Daniel Scioli. “They were strategic decisions by Juan and had nothing to do with politics,” those closest to him explained. 

Nápoli is a point of liaison first and foremost. There are those in the financial sector who talk of his historically good relationship with Massa. In fact, they highlight that he was one of those present when he was sworn in as economy minister. They were together in 2018 on the famous trip to Davos with Macri leading the way. At the time the G6 had appointed the Banco de Valores as trustee of the G20’s administrative expenses in Argentina, a role which enabled him to travel to Switzerland. The banker remembers to this day seeing such world leaders as Angela Merkel (ex-Germany chancellor), Tony Blair (former British prime minister), James Quincey (Coca-Cola) or Giovanni Vincenzo Infantino (FIFA) walk by.

Even if he has formally joined La Libertad Avanza, Nápoli remans in touch with Massa. Sources close to the banker said that “they chat because Sergio is a minister and he is the president of the Banco de Valores.” They repeat that it is strictly business and “conversations are institutional.” 

However, the candidate for Unión por la Patria is not Nápoli's only acquaintance in government. His ruling coalition friends include Lisandro Cleri, vice-president of the Central Bank, and Guillermo Michel, the head of the General Customs Office. He is “old friends” with both (who are also Massa supporters, according to those close to the banker).

Nápoli also made friends with Industry secretary José Ignacio 'Vasco' De Mendiguren through football, because they see each other every Sunday at the stadium. They are so close that only last week their paths crossed at an event attended by the press.

 

Timeline for dollarisation

Nápoli decided he had to study Milei’s dollarisation proposal in depth if he was to be able to speak about it. There are not many businessmen convinced that it is the way forward and he must try to sway them. Lobbying is in his blood, but to be able to guarantee to big business that the libertarian is not “the road to the abyss,” as their rivals claim, is a bit more complex.

To learn more about the subject, Nápoli read Emilio Ocampo’s book, Dolarización: Una Solución para la Argentina three times. He has also travelled to countries who have gone down that road in the past. He met with former president of Ecuador ,Jamil Mahuad, in Quito and then went to Panama and El Salvador. “He wanted to see specific cases to learn and now he has no doubts about Milei’s proposal,” one of his acquaintances assured. 

Some members of La Libertad Avanza repeat that if Milei wins, Argentina has to prepare for 18 months of transition. Nápoli tells his own people that the word is not “transition,” but that ultimately there will be stabilisation.

At the meeting with businessmen in the United States Nápoli could not get most of them to go home at ease in the event of a potential libertarian administration. Nevertheless, the banker is convinced that the way out is with La Libertad Avanza and that the first step should be a reform of the State.

He knows that will only happen if they win in October. For the time being he must focus on his role as a public liaison and to send signs of seriousness to big business. There is much to be done.

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Giselle Leclercq

Giselle Leclercq

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