Prosecutors today requested the pre-trial arrest of Paolo Rocca, one of Argentina's most powerful businessmen, on charges of unlawful association and bribery.
The charges against the veteran businessman form part of the so-called 'cuadernos' ("notebooks") corruption probe looking into a sweeping bribery scheme dating back to the previous Kirchnerite administrations. The case is based on detailed records kept by driver Oscar Centeno, which were investigated by the La Nación local daily.
Federal prosecutors Carlos Rívolo and Carlos Stornelli requested that Rocca, the 66-year-old head of the Italian-Argentine giant conglomerate Techint Group, be detained under pre-trial arrest.
The move comes as the duo appeal a previous ruling by the judge in charge of the case, Claudio Bonadio, arguing that other business and government officials who have been charged in the case have been held under pre-trial detention.
Bonadio has set a bond of US$103 million on the businessman and banned him from leaving the country. It is believed that decision has been appealed.
The prosecutors also requested that Juan Manuel Abal Medina, a former Cabinet chief in the Kirchnerite administrations, be arrested prior to trial, as well as Medina's former secretary Martín Larraburu and entrepreneurs Alberto Padoán (Vicentín) and Rubén Aranda (Proalsa-Chimen Aike).
"The accused Juan Abal Medina, Hugo Martin Larraburu, Paolo Rocca, Alberto Angel Padoan and Ruben David Aranda converged with public officials at the highest level," participating in "a complex, planned and executed criminal enterprise ... with the object of raising money illegally in order to enrich themselves," the prosecutors wrote.
Rocca appeared before Bonadio back in October, where he reportedly denied having paid any bribes. According to sources, however, he did admit that Techint's corporate director at the time, Luis Betnaza, had paid bribes to Kirchnerite officials in 2008 totalling at least US$1 million, as part of an attempt to win the government's support in a battle to smooth compensation over the expropriation by the Venezuelan government of the steel firm Sidor, which Techint operated in Venezuela. Techint was later compensated with a payment of US$1.95 billion for the company.
Rocca reportedly denied having any knowledge of his employee’s actions at the time to Bonadio, arguing Betnaza enjoyed operational autonomy.
The charges against him have not stopped Rocca from mixing in his usual circles. In October, he was pictured at a B20 event attended by President Mauricio Macri and last Friday he attended the G20 'Argentum' gala event at the Teatro Colón, at which world leaders were present.
Two weeks ago, after the indictment against the business leader was handed down by Judge Bonadio, Rocca's firms threw their support behind him, saying he had "the full support of the board of directors." It said it was "monitoring the situation together with lawyers."
That message was issued from Luxembourg by the companies Ternium and Tenaris, the two main firms that make up the Techint Group.
Shares in Tenaris immediately dropped as news of the arrest broke, Bloomberg reported.
“The prosecutors’ request does not constitute an order and does not have any immediate effect,” Tenaris said to Bloomberg in a statement. “Any such order can only be issued by a court, and the court of appeals is expected to consider the prosecutors’ request at the time it considers Judge Bonadio’s decision and Mr. Rocca’s appeal.”