Wednesday, January 19, 2022

OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 23-03-2019 11:01

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king

All of this mess becomes increasingly complicated to follow day after day. In part, that could be the strategy: to sully the playing field to the point where no-one wants to play, with the exception of those who have no choice.

It’s difficult to fully ascertain the ramifications of the explosive case gripping Argentina at present, given how many different actors are trying to steer it in a certain direction. Much like any contentious situation, facts and narrative become intertwined to the point where it is difficult to realise what is true and what is not. For example, for years the tobacco industry convinced society that it wasn’t responsible for cancer, much like climate change deniers suggest fossil fuels aren’t that bad for the planet.

Supposed spy Marcelo D’Alessio was in too deep. Now he’s caught in a tug-of-war that will most probably chew him up and spit him out on the wrong side. It really depends on whether he has enough dirt on powerful enough people that he will be allowed to slowly find a way out the back door once this dies down. Unfortunately, and one foreign journalist living and working in Argentina recently opined, this case has become convoluted to the point where it has become unimportant to the general public, particularly as the economy crumbles and presidential elections get under way.

Over the past couple of weeks, the case in which Federal Prosecutor Carlos Stornelli, currently in charge of the all-important ‘cuadernos’ notebooks of corruption case, has been roped into an illicit ring of espionage and extortion has taken a few wild turns. Documents have revealed and confirmed time and time again that Stornelli had a friendly relationship with D’Alessio, who presented himself as a regional director for the Drug Enforcement Agency, something the US Embassy has denied.

D’Alessio most clearly belonged to a group of spies tied to Argentina’s AFI intelligence agency, responding to former police chiefs and supposed ‘inorganic’ AFI agents Ricardo Bogoliuk and Aníbal Degastaldi, in what judge Alejo Ramos Padilla has understood to be a chain of command. Documents taken from his mobile phones and hard drives reveal he received confidential information from different Argentine agencies, and that he had access to possible data from international spy agencies. Yet, believing he was a DEA agent, just because he showed a badge and a gun, is naïve to say the least. D’Alessio trafficked information, and he generally had the good stuff it seems. That’s why officials tied to Elisa ‘Lilita’ Carrió relied on him for information, as did Stornelli and prosecutor Juan Ignacio Bidone, who was involved in some highprofile drug-trafficking cases. It is also how D’Alessio made a fortune for himself, extorting potential defendants in different cases. Some of them dirty, others not.

Yet it must be noted that the supposed spy worked side by side with what is sometimes dubbed the “judicial family” that controls Comodoro Py federal courthouse. That he had judicial protection became obvious once he was handed over in order to topple Stornelli. As judge Ramos Padilla stepped up the pace of his investigation from the Dolores courthouse in Buenos Aires province, dormant cases against D’Alessio picked up their own speed.

The most relevant one was brought by customs broker Gabriel Traficante, who in 2016 filed a complaint against the supposed spy who asked him for US$90,000 in order to come out clean in the so-called “container mafia case.” The strategy was the same he used in the case brought by agro-businessman Pedro Etchebest and which blew the lid off this whole subworld of spies and judicial operators. After spending three years in judge Luis Rodríguez’s drawer, the case is moving once again. Note that Rodríguez is the same judge who is being accused of receiving a US$10-million bribe from Néstor Kirchner’s former personal secretary, Daniel Muñoz, to avoid prison. Muñoz was found to have some US$65 million in undeclared US real-estate and was one of the main actors in the money-laundering operations suspected to go all the way up to the Kirchners.

Over the past two weeks, judge Ramos Padilla was summoned to Congress twice to testify about the case. The first of those appearances was before the Commission on Freedom of Speech, which is presided over by Kirchneriste Leopoldo Moreau. It was an open hearing which means it was publicly televised, but only Perfil of the major media outlets paid much attention. While Clarin, La Nación, and Infobae essentially ignored the case, representatives responding to Cambiemos decided to boycott the session, accusing the judge of losing his impartiality and revealing information about the case. Then, Justice Minister Germán Garavano, at the behest of the Executive (i.e. President Mauricio Macri), asked the Magistrates Council to remove him from his post. Macri’s coalition was taking a page from the Kirchnerista playbook. What are they trying to hide, one should ask? Journalist Carlos Pagni indicated Ramos Padilla had information that covert espionage was being conducted on Buenos Aires province Governor María Eugenia Vidal, for example. What else is in his files?

Meanwhile, Stornelli has again failed to present himself to the Dolores courthouse to testify before Ramos Padilla for a third time, as he tries to get the judge thrown off the case. As the judge wrote in his ruling, Stornelli’s immunity as a prosecutor shouldn’t grant him the right to be above the law. He has now given him a fourth chance to appear, next week.

Stornelli’s strategy is to get the case taken to Comodoro Py on jurisdictional grounds, yet it is striking that he hasn’t shown up in Dolores to present written testimony, arguing just that. Judicial sources suggest Stornelli isn’t in a good mood lately, while Ramos Padilla seems confident, with his feet on the ground.

All of this mess becomes increasingly complicated to follow day after day. In part, that could be the strategy: to sully the playing field to the point where no-one wants to play, with the exception of those who have no choice. Ahead of the elections, where Macri’s strongest cards appear to be the battle against corruption, the notebooks case is essential. On Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s side, the crusade against corruption is the perfect excuse to cry foul and point to political persecution. Both of them have too much skin in the game, meaning this one will likely get even messier.

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Agustino Fontevecchia

Agustino Fontevecchia


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