Thursday, February 27, 2020

ARGENTINA | 06-10-2018 08:32

Techint’ Rocca denies bribery claims before judge

President of firm plays down links to Kirchnerite administrations as delivers testimony before Claudio Bonadio.

In a much-awaited court appearance before Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio, as part of the infamous “cuadernos” (notebooks) Kirchnerite corruption case, Techint President Paolo Rocca yesterday denied having paid any bribes – although his extensive testimony was not limited to a simple denial.

According to court sources, Rocca admitted that Techint corporate director Luis Betnaza had paid bribes to Kirchnerite officials to ease a difficult situation which the multinational was undergoing in Venezuela (as is now public knowledge following that executive’s confession) but he denied having any knowledge of his employee’s initiative at the time. Betnaza enjoyed operational autonomy within his sphere, Rocca argued.

In his own previous testimony, Betnaza had in turn passed the blame onto another Techint director, Héctor Zabaleta, saying he paid bribes to former Federal Planning Ministry official Roberto Baratta (now in prison). This graft was in aid of Techint’s SIDOR and TAVSA steel plants in Venezuela, which were being harassed a decade ago by the government of the late Hugo Chávez with threats of nationalisation (threats which were eventually carried out).

Asked about the funding of these bribes, Rocca replied that he suspected the money came from the dividends of partners but that he was awaiting the results of an internal audit for a precise answer.

Apart from these payments involving Venezuela, Rocca denied any bribery of any kind, arguing that Techint had never belonged to the group of Kirchnerite contractors, only receiving one percent of public works in that period.

As for the Venezuelan angle, Rocca insisted that he knew nothing about the bribes because in those years of 2008- 2009 he had his hands completely full with the global financial crisis emanating from the collapse of Lehman Brothers. But he did admit to having telephoned not only then-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner over the nationalisation threats but also thenBrazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his heir-apparent Dilma Rousseff (since SIDOR also had Brazilian shareholders).

According to Betnaza, Fernández de Kirchner attended several meetings concerning the intercession with Venezuela, informing Techint that the Venezuelan price for the steel plants was US$1.97 billion, to be paid to the Finance Ministry in Caracas.

Rocca’s questioning was the third testimony from a Techint director in the cuadernos case following Betnaza (already indicted and now a whistleblower) and Zabaleta (acquitted but whose trial is still being sought by prosecutor Carlos Stornelli). The Techint chief was not actually mentioned in the notebooks of former Federal Planning Ministry chaffeur Oscar Centeno but he did appear in a pendrive owned by Kircherite financier Ernesto Clarens.

A total of 40 people have been indicted in connection with the ‘cuadernos’ case, including Fernández de Kirchner, former Federal Planning Minister Julio De Vido, former Public Works secretary José López and several businessmen, including Aldo Roggio and Angelo Calcaterra. These indictments are now up for confirmation before the Federal Appeals Court.



José López asks for forgiveness as he names names in court

Former government official José López this week asked his family and society to “pardon” him for his “misconduct” (a reference to when he was caught throwing bags containing some US$9 million over a convent wall in mid2016), explaining that it was “very difficult to escape the perverse system” into which he had fallen.

He also denounced threats and said that he feared for his life because ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is “highly vindictive.” López, a former Public Works secretary under the Kirchnerite administration, denied having enriched himself in public service, saying that he only repented lacking the courage to walk out. Now officially recognised as a whistleblower by the courts, López says he was given the dollar-laden bags by Fernández de Kirchner’s private secretary Fabián Gutiérrez.

The ex-official also claimed that he was not the only visitor to the convent, adding his exboss former Federal Planning minister Julio De Vido, current Santa Cruz Governor Alicia Kirchner (elder sister of late former president Néstor Kirchner) and Federal Judge María Romilda Servini de Cubría among others to that list. The remarks were made on Thursday while testifying for the second time at his trial.

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