The Chamber of Deputies this week voted to strip former Planning minister Julio De Vido of his congressional immunity over corruption allegations, paving the way for his arrest. Barely an hour after the decision, the 67-year-old turned himself in to the authorities, arriving at the Comodoro Py courthouse. After the lawmakers’ decision, police officials arrived at De Vido’s apartment, but the former official had already left.
Upon arrival at the courthouse, De Vido referred to his longtime rival and recently elected lawmaker to Buenos Aires City, Elisa ‘Lilta’ Carrió, telling journalists they should “send champagne to Doctor Carrió” from him. He was later transferred to the top security prison in Ezeiza, where he spent time at the Central Prison Hospital (HPC), In a dramatic session in Congress that began at noon on Wednesday, lawmakers in the chamber voted 176 in favour, with one abstention, in approval of a motion to strip De Vido – a key Kirchnerite minister who served under former presidents Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner – of his immunity from prosecution.
While the chamber has 257 seats in total, Kirchnerite-allied lawmakers in the Victory Front(FpV-Peronist) block refused to attend the vote and come to the floor, with the FpV’s Hector Recalde denouncing the move against the 67-year-old as part of a wider “plan to persecute opponents” at a press conference earlier in the day.
President Mauricio Macri’s Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition had expressed confidence prior to the vote that they would have the numbers to push it through. By 2.15pm, lawmakers had approved the motion.
The motion arrived at Congress after two separate requests from Luis Rodríguez and Claudio Bonadio, federal judges probing De Vido’s involvement in two corruption cases. The judges claimed that De Vido could use his influence to affect the investigation and have argued for his immediate imprisonment and pre-trial detention.
CLOSE TIES. De Vido became close to the presidential couple during the 1980s, before Néstor Kirchner was governor of the southern province of Santa Cruz. As Planning minister, De Vido oversaw the distribution and awarding of billions of dollars set aside for public works projects and was a key figure in three Kirchnerite administrations.
“He was not just a simple minister. He was one of the most powerful Kirchnerists because he was the leader of the system of financing political activity,” analyst Carlos Fara said. In a recent interview given during her campaign to win a senatorial seat for Buenos Aires Province, Fernández de Kirchner said that she doesn’t “put her hands in the fire for De Vido, [or] not for anybody.”
De Vido is being investigated on two fronts. Bonadio is probing claims over alleged irregularities and kickbacks involving US$7 billion in payments related to the purchase of liquefied gas. The judge recently ordered the arrest of Roberto Baratta, De Vido’s so-called ‘right hand man’ and the seizure of assets from both totalling as much as one billion pesos. Rodríguez, meanwhile, is investigating the alleged embezzlement of 270 million pesos for uncompleted projects related to a coal mine in Rio Turbio, Santa Cruz province.
Prior to the vote, De Vido sent a letter to the Constitutional Affairs Commission claiming the move against him was a “true legal scandal.” Cambiemos lawmakers Anita Martínez and Lucas Incicco said De Vido was “one of the greatest icons of corruption in national history national.”