President Alberto Fernández on Saturday sided with Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and sacked one of his closest Cabinet allies, Productive Development Minister Matias Kulfas, after officials in the latter's portfolio briefed reporters against the former president.
Fernández requested the minister's resignation, a spokesperson for the Presidency confirmed to the state news agency Télam. Kulfas’ replacement will be Daniel Scioli, Argentina’s current ambassador to Brazil, they added.
Scioli, 65, a political veteran, is a former governor of Buenos Aires Province who lost the 2015 presidential election to Mauricio Macri.
Kulfas’ sharp ejection from government came after a number of journalists received an "off-the-record" briefing from the minister’s portfolio via WhatsApp.
The message blamed “Cristina's officials” – a reference to Kirchnerite figures aligned with the former president – for having "tailored the tender for the supply of supplies for the Néstor Kirchner gas pipeline to [private company] Techint."
The trunk pipeline, the tender of which was officially launched Saturday, will vastly increase capacity to transport gas from the unconventional Vaca Muerta shale formation in Patagonia for domestic supplies and export.
The accusation immediately reignited tensions within the ruling coalition and came hours after the president and vice-president shared the stage at an event last Friday to celebrate the centenary of state energy company YPF, which was privatised in the 1990s and renationalised in 2012 under Fernández de Kirchner.
That meeting between president and vice-president was seen as a small step towards restoring relations between the duo, who had not spoken for three months previously amid differences over economic policy, according to reports.
Reacting swiftly to the leaking of the press briefing, Fernández asked Kulfas to resign his post.
"It is ethically reprehensible to speak off the record [to reporters] to the detriment of another. I do not endorse such behaviour and I share the discomfort expressed by Cristina [Fernández de] Kirchner," the president posted on Twitter.
Earlier, on the same social network, Fernández de Kirchner had said the briefing was "very unfair and, above all, very painful that this type of attack is carried out by officials of the Frente de Todos government itself."
"Worst of all," she added, they do it "without showing their faces, off the record, lying and using journalists."
Return of Scoili
The naming of Daniel Scioli as Argentina’s new productive development minister sees the former presidential candidate return to the frontline of politics.
A businessman and boss of the Electrolux Argentina chain of electrical appliance stores in the 1980s, Scioli entered government during the Carlos Menem (1989-1999) years after a successful career in offshore powerboat racing championships.
In 1989, he lost his right arm in an accident on the Paraná river, but he returned to the sport wearing a prosthesis, winning a number of championships in the process.
In 2003, he became vice-president under late former president Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), after which he served eight years as governor of Buenos Aires Province during the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner government(2007-2015).
In 2015, Scioli headed a Peronist presidential ticket but he was defeated by opposition Cambiemos leader Mauricio Macri, losing a second round run-off by a margin of 51.34 percent to 48.66 percent.