Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio, who made his name by launching multiple graft probes and trials against the 2007-2015 governments of current Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, died of a brain tumour early Tuesday just three days after turning 64.
Bonadio had requested that Cristina Kirchner (protected by senatorial immunity from 2017 until last October’s electoral victory) be remanded in custody in no less than five of the dozen cases against her and succeeded in bringing the three main ones – public works corruption dubbed “cuadernos” for the copybooks chronicling it, money-laundering via her Hotesur Patagonian hotel chain and the memorandum of understanding with Iran – to trial before he died.
While for some he became a symbol of unbending integrity for his crusade against corruption, Bonadio began his judicial career in 1993 on a very different footing – as one of the “napkin” judges owing their name to a list of docile magistrates jotted down on a serviette by then Interior Minister Carlos Corach, a personal friend (Bonadio’s youthful militancy in the rightist Iron Guard brought him closer to 1989-99 president Carlos Menem’s brand of Peronism). In his first years as judge he was better known for shelving than pursuing cases.
After beginning under this cloud, Bonadio’s image suffered a further complication some years later when he became a rare case of a judge taking justice into his own hands – in 2001 two youths tried to hold him up in Villa Martelli, only to be shot dead by their intended victim (a keen hunter in his leisure time). This led to Cristina Kirchner calling him a “trigger-happy judge” in one nationwide broadcast, also slamming him as a “judicial hitman” the day before he died.
His career continued to languish when in 2005 he was taken off the investigation into the 1994 terrorist bomb destruction of AMIA Jewish community centre after his handling of the case was sharply criticised by the late special AMIA prosecutor Alberto Nisman.
It was not until over a decade into the Kirchner years that he began the investigations into corruption which were to make him famous in 2014 but the accumulation of cases in the next five years was rapid. So was the Kirchnerite backlash – a stream of charges denouncing Bonadio for malfeasance, embezzlement and complicity with drugtrafficking among other accusations began that same year of 2014 and totalled at least 126 by the time of his death.
Predictably enough, there were contrasting reactions to the death of this controversial magistrate. A day of mourning was immediately ordered at Comodoro Py federal courthouse where he had worked for over a quarter-century. But Kirchnerites were quick to question him for “lawfare” – i.e.inventing bogus corruption cases in order to destabilise progressive governments.