Former president Mauricio Macri has been banned from leaving the country and summoned to testify in a case probing the alleged illegal espionage of relatives of the late crew-members of the ARA San Juan submarine.
Dolores Federal Judge Martín Bava issued his ruling on Friday, calling the opposition leader to a hearing next Thursday October 7.
According to the magistrate's ruling, Macri stands accused of ordering, allowing, organising and executing the "systematic carrying out of intelligence tasks expressly prohibited by law" between December 2017 and the end of 2018.
Macri, 62, is currently in the United States, but following the judicial order, upon his return he will be prohibited from leaving the country. Sources close to the former president told Perfil on Friday that Macri had learnt of the ruling via media outlets. It is unknown if he intends to attend the court hearing.
Judge Bava also ordered the prosecution of former Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI) directors Gustavo Arribas and Silvia Majdalani, who reported to Macri, on charges they carried out “illegal espionage” on relatives who were desperate to know the fate of their loved ones. Both Arribas and Majdalani denied the allegations against them in testimony back in July.
The ARA San Juan submarine disappeared in November 2017. When it was found just over a year later, it was at a depth of more than 900 metres in a desolate area of the South Atlantic, 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 decided against attempting to refloat it.
The espionage case began with a criminal complaint by the Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI) Director Cristina Caamaño, who uncovered evidence indicating that relatives of the late crew were spied on during the Macri administration’s time in office.
"It is clear that these illegal deeds were not perpetrated by rank and file agents who on their own initiative engaged in espionage but instead stemmed from a national political interest that ultimately responded to the then-president of Argentina, Mauricio Macri," wrote Bava in his ruling, which was released to the press.
Macri could face a potential prison sentence of between three and ten years if he is found guilty of violating Argentina’s National Intelligence Law, although in this case aggravating circumstances could also be considered.
“The then-president [mandate from 2015 to 2019] was in full knowledge of the monitoring carried out by the Federal Intelligence Agency regarding the families of the crew members," Judge Bava wrote in his ruling, which was released to the press.
According to evidence presented by prosecutors in court, relatives of the deceased were followed and wiretapped, photographed and filmed, and even intimidated into abandoning their demands.
All 44 crew members died when the ARA San Juan sank offshore on November 15, 2017, when returning from Ushuaia to Mar del Plata naval base. Its crushed wreckage was located almost exactly one year later on November 16, 2018, by the Seabed Constructor, a ship owned by US search firm Ocean Infinity, after a long, traumatic search for the submarine that drew attention from across the globe. Navy officials later confirmed the submarine suffered an implosion, which caused the vessel to sink.
Lawyer Luis Tagliaprieta, a relative of one of the late crew who is a plaintiff in the case, welcomed Friday’s ruling.
"This was expected. It was evident that the papers produced by espionage were addressed to then-president Mauricio Macri," he told Noticias Argentinas.
"We hope to get to the truth and find out why they spied on us," he added.
Family members have regularly expressed frustration with the Macri administration and the Navy due to the lack of answers provided by the authorities.
In March, two former military chiefs were sanctioned over the sinking. Retired admiral Marcelo Srur was handed "45 days of arrest" for having given an "incomplete" picture to the Defence Ministry 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 20 and 30-day detentions and the former head of a naval base in the south of the country 15 days.