After being remanded in custody on corruption and money-laundering charges for more than four years (including 10 months under a more congenial government), Kirchnerite tycoon Lázaro Báez must have fancied that he had finally drawn his “Get out of jail free” on Monday when a court granted him house arrest without bail.
However, protesters decrying what they view as “impunity” for corrupt Kirchnerite figures ensured his prison exit would not run smoothly.
On Monday evening, a Penitentiary Service van took the Austral Consctrucciones businessman to his country house in the Ayres de Pilar gated community, only to run into an impenetrable barrage from his indignant neighbours.
The vehicle was greeted with a hail of stones and eggs upon arrival at the gated community, smashing the windscreen, before being pushed and battered when slowing down at the entrance. Around 100 neighbours waving flags and anti-Báez posters surrounded the van, while shouting insults such as “Thief, go back to jail!”
The car of the lawyers accompanying him also received its share of eggs.
Eventually, the van was forced to turn back, with Báez finding himself installed once again at Ezeiza prison.
This backlash came despite the gated community’s management finding no reason to bar an Ayres de Pilar homeowner entry to the property.
On Tuesday, Báez's girlfriend, Claudia Insaurralde, defended her partner, saying the operation had been "badly organised" due to “political and media” issues.
“It is outrageous, the behaviour of these people amazes me," she said.
“He has been detained for four-and-a-half years without a preventive sentence. They have violated all his rights. It is only fair that he be at home."
Back at the jail that same evening, the tycoon’s lawyers immediately started looking for another address at which he will be able to serve house arrest.
Eventually, Báez left jail on Wednesday evening, though he didn’t return Ayres de Pilar. Via a secretive operation, the tycoon was taken to a "closed neighbourhood in Buenos Aires Province," La Nación reported. His exact location is unknown, though reports he was heading to the Belgrano neighbourhood in the capital were later revealed to be just rumours.
Not without warning
The furore did not arrive without warning. Two months ago ago Ayres de Pilar residents were already vowing to deny Báez entry when the TOF (Tribunal Oral Federal) 4 court granted the controversial businessman house arrest, but only on condition he stump up a bail of 632 million pesos, which his lawyers rejected as both exorbitant and unpayable.
Six weeks later the Federal Criminal Cassation Court accepted the defence plea that the bail was excessive, ordering TOF4 to drop it to 386 million pesos, though this sum was still considered beyond the defendant’s means.
The Cassation Court then concluded last Monday that there was no other way to put the house arrest ruling into effect than to withdraw insistence on bail, giving TOF4 no choice but to release him from jail immediately. The 53 months already spent in prison by Báez (64) far exceed the three-year maximum limit for pre-trial remanding in custody.
Since the coronavirus pandemic started, Báez has further pleaded being in an at risk group from the virus, as a diabetic with heart problems.
The bail sums were around 10-15 percent of the US$60 million he is accused of having laundered between 2010 and 2013, according to the specific charges against him. But that money is only part of the massive Australes Construcciones business empire created by the former bank cashier, which took on a number of state contracts during the three Kirchner presidencies between 2003 and 2015, based on oil concessions and public works contracts in the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz.
One of his co-defendants in another trial concerning alleged irregularities in the award of Santa Cruz highway contracts is Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, charged with ultimate responsibility for the alleged corruption dating back to her two presidential terms between 2007 and 2015.