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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 22-12-2018 08:31

The fight against corruption in Argentina

Before 2015, the chances of spending a single day in prison after a corruption case was filed in court were next to nothing.

The fight against corruption is one of the biggest challenges that Argentina faces today. In 2015, when he became president, Mauricio Macri gave the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights a clear mandate: the reduction of the current levels of impunity in corruption cases must be this administration’s top priority.

The statistics evidenced a difficult road lay ahead. For every 1,000 reported crimes only four receive actual prison convictions. If we narrowed that number only to corruption cases, it was only 0.0013 prison convictions. In other words, before 2015, the chances of spending a single day in prison after a corruption case had been filed in court were next to nothing.

Many problems with our judicial system had to be addressed before significant differences could be perceived. To meet this specific objective, the open government ‘Justice2020’ initiative was launched. This comprehensive judicial reform programme, with a strong component of public and civil society participation, developed the organisational and legal modifications that were necessary to improve the performance of Argentina’s outdated court system.

As a result of a coordinated effort across the administration, Congress passed key legislation that has completely transformed criminal investigations. Worth mentioning are the Special Investigating Techniques Act, the Whistleblower Act, the Criminal Liability for Corporations Act, the Federal Criminal Procedure Code, the Unipersonal Adjudication Act and the Strengthening of the Federal Trial Courts Act.

Immediately after these laws were enacted, criminal courts doubled their productivity levels, they started clearing their backlog and were able to focus on advancing the more complex investigations. Like never before in our country, there are now an unprecedented number of corruption cases that have their dates set for trial. Approximately 90 individuals accused of serious corruption charges will face a public and oral trial in the federal court system during 2019.

To assist the federal court system, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights has improved and redesigned the Witness Protection Programme. This resulted in a 155-percent increase, over a three-year period, in the number of protected witnesses incorporated into the programme for organised crime and corruption cases. Additionally, to meet the new demands of the federal court system, the Federal Penitentiary Service had to implement a special programme called IRIC (Intervention System for the Reduction of Corruptibility) to hold the more than 60 highprofile detainees in corruption cases (former public officials, union leaders, businessmen, etc.).

The Anti-Corruption Office also played a key role in this transformation. Thanks to its involvement, 10 convictions (including a former vice-president of Argentina) were obtained in some of the most significant corruption cases in recent memory. This achievement was accompanied by US$6.7 billion in frozen assets linked to corruption cases. The Anti-Corruption Office is strongly involved in the implementation of the Criminal Liability for Corporations Act too, which will help mitigate corruption levels in public procurement and public infrastructure cases.

To complement all these initiatives the Ministry has adopted a comprehensive transparency agenda. Our open data programme now publishes a wide range of public documents and statistical data sets. Consequently, Argentina climbed from the 54th to the 17th place in the Global Open Data Index. Electronic filing and web-based procurement is now the norm, across the entire federal administration.

The world has certainly taken notice of all these efforts. Argentina climbed 22 positions in the Corruption Perception Index report published by Transparency International. We were hosts of the G20 Leaders Summit this year as well, where an agreement was reached on a new action plan for 2019-2021 for the endorsement of Principles on Preventing Corruption and Ensuring Integrity in State-Owned Enterprises and on Preventing and Managing Conflicts of Interest in the Public Sector. All countries present agreed on the necessity of fostering transparency and integrity in the public and private sectors. Argentina is also well positioned for the upcoming Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) anti-bribery revision.

There is still much work that needs to be done. The effective implementation of the new Federal Procedure Code promises a complete transformation of the federal court system. An improvement in the speed of adjudication and a reduction of backlogs is to be expected. Congress needs to address the complex issue of asset forfeiture too. Enacting legislation to this effect is absolutely necessary in order to successfully combat criminal organisations by going against that which affects them the most, their profits.

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Germán Garavano

Germán Garavano

Lawyer and expert on judicial reform, current Minister of Justice and Human Rights for the Republic of Argentina.

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