With a contended presidential election ahead of us, the Judiciary is once again at the forefront, yet this time its centre of gravity is off-balance.
During the more than three years of the Mauricio Macri Presidency to date, the Judiciary has taken a lead role in civil society through the investigation of public-private corruption during the Kirchner era. Keeping a close tab on the Kirchners quickly leads one to suspect foul play from the very early days, with the Skanska Case being the first very graphic example back in 2005, and published only in Perfil at a time when criticising Néstor and Cristina was politically incorrect. With a contended presidential election ahead of us, the Judiciary is once again at the forefront, yet this time its centre of gravity is off-balance, and the power dispute is vicious to the point that most of the collateral damage is being felt in-house. On the one hand we have the eternal Comodoro Py federal courthouse gang, led by judge Claudio Bonadio and prosecutor Carlos Stornelli, currently opposed to Dolores federal judge Alejo Ramos Padilla.
In Buenos Aires, where Comodoro Py is located, a clear target in the so-called “corruption notebooks” case is former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who currently leads several opinion polls and appears to be the only potential candidate could beat Macri in October. Bonadio and Stornelli count with the implicit and explicit support of the government and our country’s major news outlets, Clarín, La Nación and Infobae. The comfort between them is such that Daniel Santoro, longtime investigative journalist for Clarín, is currently under fire for being part of a supposed illicit association along with Stornelli and the apparent spy Marcelo D’Alessio, which sought to extort defendants and potential defendants out of cash and judicial confessions.
That last point ties in with judge Ramos Padilla, who counts with the support of CFK, a certain sector of the business community that is looking to get the cuadernos case tossed out, and a sector of the “militant media” headed by Página/12 daily and journalist Horacio Verbitsky. Ramos Padilla called Stornelli to testify, which the federal prosecutor refused to do, and charged him with being part of this ring of illicit espionage along with the crooked D’Alessio, who also claimed to have ties with the US Drug Enforcement Agency and Argentina’s AFI spy agency. Judge Ramos Padilla is under intense pressure from Comodoro Py to hand over the case, on jurisdictional grounds, and thus has sent all of the evidence (particularly from D’Alessio’s phones) to Congress to supposedly safeguard the investigation. He has agreed to testify before Congress this coming week.
What is absolutely elemental to understand here is that both cases are marred by a political stench that makes them anything but impartial, as the judiciary must be in order to generate the conditions to truly eradicate corruption in Argentina. The cuadernos case is a key part of our future as a country, as it pulled the towel off of a system of public-private corruption that everyone knew about but no-one had seen. Politicians, looking to fill their pockets and finance party structures and campaigning, built a system of kickbacks based on overpricing public works projects, the majority of which were never finished. Businessmen quickly figured out that if they colluded, overcharged for the projects, and financed the bribes with the same payments they were receiving from the state, they couldn’t lose. It was perfect, and it destroyed the country and wrecked its infrastructure to the point where we are pathetically one of the world’s richest countries in terms of resources, yet absolutely underdeveloped, particularly in terms of infrastructure.
Cuadernos must make it so that this never happens again, and it is very possible that it will. Yet, Bonadio was absolutely subservient to Cristina during her years in power, and only now has turned to the point where he has made it clear that his personal mission is to see her behind bars. At the same time, the methods used by Bonadio and Stornelli to reach plea bargains with the accused that immediately lead to non-Kirchnerites receiving home imprisonment, as long as they point their finger up so that the investigation may progress in Cristina’s direction is tainting that process. Stornelli relied on sources like D’Alessio and other members of this underworld of intelligence operations and covert surveillance that is clearly illegal. Off-the-record conversations with leading businessmen has made it clear that the Bonadio-Stornelli duo have asked for testimony to stop once it oversteps the boundaries of Kirchnerite corruption. This is also evidenced by the coverage journalists in the aforementioned outlets have given to the case, focusing primarily on anything tied to CFK and her goons. There is a clear tacit agreement between the government, the Judiciary in Comodoro Py, and the media to work together.
The D’Alessio case in Dolores follows a similar pattern. From day one, Verbitsky has had access to the docket, publishing humiliating details including explicit evidence. Judge Ramos Padilla, who is accused of being a Kirchnerite but has a background in the Radical Civic Union (UCR), fought tooth and nail to keep the case in the Dolores courthouse knowing that the only way to push it forward and get Stornelli to testify is to keep it as far away from the Py mafia as possible. He has accused the prosecutor of the cuadernos case of using illicit espionage to pursue his investigation in a case that is directly tied to the corruption notebooks, which could potentially lead to Cristina and some 100 businessmen challenging whether the methods used to gain their confessions weren’t equally extortive. Fernández de Kirchner’s intimate knowledge of the docket is another clear demonstration that nothing in this case is sacred, as the whole point of the investigation is that it becomes public. All of this, though, doesn’t justify or excuse Stornelli and Santoro’s behaviour, if indeed judge Ramos Padilla proves his accusations.
What does all of this mean, dear reader? The complexity of the situation is such that in order to follow it one must constantly read between the lines. The cuadernos case is by no means an innocent investigation, but its findings appear true and supported by a mountain of evidence, and therefore we must try as a society to help it move forward. And we have to say the same thing of the D’Alessio-Stornelli investigation, understanding that it has unveiled a corrupt system of illicit espionage and extortion that is the standard operating mechanism of our country’s judiciary. Both sides count with ample support from opposing groups, interested in the final outcome of both the investigation and the election. Lady Justice, in this country, has been eternally desecrecated. Let us hope this ends some day.