Former president Mauricio Macri brushed off a court summons on Thursday, skipping a hearing in which he was to be questioned about alleged spying on the relatives of the 44 crew-members who died in the ARA San Juan submarine tragedy.
Dolores Federal Judge Martín Bava subpoenaed Macri, 62, last week to testify about his role in the alleged espionage. The former president, whose party forms part of the opposition Juntos coalition, was in the United States when he got the order to testify.
The Cambiemos leader, who led Argentina from 2015 to 2019, chose not to attend last Thursday's court session due to "international commitments," Patricia Bullrich, the president of Macri's PRO party, revealed a day earlier, informing the court that the ex-head of state would return to Argentina in late October.
"For this reason, I trust that the judge will know how to understand the situation that has been generated with this imminent summons and that he will bear in mind the permanent vocation of respect and submission to the republican institutions that former president Mauricio Macri assumes," she wrote in a letter to Judge Bava.
Bullrich asked the magistrate to avoid "any hasty decisions" that could "increase the noise" that the "untimely summons" has generated in the media.
The judge subsequently issued another summons for October 20, instead of declaring him in absentia and requesting a warrant for his arrest.
Macri is currently in Miami. In an Instagram post on Wednesday, he revealed that he had accepted an offer to teach classes on "political leadership" at the Adam Smith Center for Economic Freedom at Florida International University, an institute headed by Carlos Díaz-Rosillo, a former advisor to ex-US president Donald Trump.
According to sources close to the former president, Macri is due to travel to Qatar next week for work related to his role as president of the FIFA Foundation. He is expected to return to Argentina afterwards. When he does, the former businessman will be barred from leaving the country again at Judge Bava's request.
Speaking on Thursday, Macri’s defence lawyer Pablo Lanusse warned that he would not allow the magistrate or the national government to “make a circus and annihilate Mauricio’s rights.”
He dismissed the summons as “electioneering” and said the former president would appear before the court and collaborate on “the search for truth.”
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.
All 44 crew members died in the tragedy. The submarine 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.
Family members of the sailors told investigators they were followed and wiretapped, filmed and intimidated into abandoning any claims related to the incident.
Macri is 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. He 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.
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Judge Bava has 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 the relatives, who were desperate to know the fate of their loved ones.
Both Arribas and Majdalani deny the allegations against them.
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.