Corruption in Argentina

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Argentina has long suffered from widespread and endemic corruption. A 1996 New York Times article noted that “payoffs, kickbacks and government corruption are considered part of everyday life” in Argentina.[1]

Corruption remains a serious problem in the public and private sector even though the legal and institutional framework combating corruption is strong in Argentina. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was allegedly involved in a number of corruption scandals. Bribery and fraud are also found common among the private sector, and the lack of transparency in government regulations and laws has triggered an increased uncertainty among investors.[2]

Argentina, one observer noted in 2012, “is a deeply corrupt country....Argentines have scant regard for the law.”[3] Corruption, according to American Task Force Argentina, “affects all aspects of Argentina’s economy.”[4]

Contents

Extent[edit]

In recent years, especially during the presidencies of Néstor Kirchner (2003–07) and his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-), corruption is generally viewed as having become even more prevalent than was previously the case. Wikileaks cables released in 2011 revealed that diplomats from the United States and several other Western countries had expressed deep concern about the current levels of corruption in Argentina.[5] The major Argentinian newspaper La Nación editorialized in October 2013 that although corruption has been a major problem in Argentina since the 1890s, it has been “on the increase" since the 1990s.[6]

“Under President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner,” reported the Heritage Foundation in 2013, “respect for markets and the rule of law has deteriorated and corruption has boomed.”[7] “As far as corruption is concerned, it seems not a day goes by at the moment without some new allegation or incident,” wrote one journalist in April 2013.[4] According to Transparency International, Argentina has sufficient legislation and institutions dedicated to the prosecution of corruption in the public sector, but enforcement is highly inadequate, with the result that “impunity continues to trump integrity.”[8]

Corruption is so common in Argentina that it is widely regarded as intractable and tends to be shrugged off by many voters at election time. The Financial Times noted in 2013 that in Argentina corruption is widely considered to be “engrained,” and “there is the sense that public officials are untouchable.” In May 2013, sociologist Atilio Borón lamented that “the Argentinian is very accustomed to the idea that governments are corrupt, and does not seem shocked at acts of corruption,” and that the corruption of politicians therefore does not prevent their reelection. “This is an economy that for the past 20 years has tolerated a legal drain over 160 billion dollars,” he added, “and this it now coming to take its revenge.”[9] Despite the widespread indifference, however, a major national protest against the Fernández administration on November 8, 2012 was fueled largely by frustration over government corruption. It was followed in April 2013 by an even larger set of demonstrations, also motivated to a considerable degree by anger at corruption.

In 2013, Argentina was ranked 106th out of 177 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, a ranking it shared with Bolivia, Gabon, Mexico, and Niger. According to the Index, Argentina, along with Mexico, was the most corrupt country in Latin America.[10] Argentina fared even more poorly in the corruption rankings on the 2012-13 Global Competitiveness Report, issued by the World Economic Forum. Out of 152 countries surveyed, Argentina was named the 145th least corrupt, meaning that only seven countries in the world were more corrupt.[11]

History[edit]

There is a long history of serious corruption in Argentina. “Ever since independence, almost 200 years ago Argentina’s foreign debt has been a source of impoverishment and corruption and the biggest scandals.”[12]

Baring Brothers incident[edit]

The earliest major episode in the history of Argentinian corruption began with an 1824 loan from the British banking house Baring Brothers,[12] which was “the leader in financing Argentina's economic development for upwards of sixty years and the major issuer of that country's loans,” with Baring Brothers' Argentine loans totaling £19.2 million by the late 1880s. In August 1888, however, Baring Brothers was unable to place £10 million of shares and debentures in Buenos Aires Water Supply & Drainage Company,[13] a firm that was “denounced as a feeding trough for corrupt politicians and rapacious foreign capitalists.”[14]

Baring Brothers' inability to dispose of these and other Argentinian holdings placed the firm in acute distress, forcing the Bank of Britain to arrange a rescue in which J.P. Morgan played the major role.[13] The Baring Brothers episode was an important chapter not only in the history of Argentinian economics but also in the history of the global stock market.[14] According to one source, “scandals surrounding corruption claims in connection with the loan damaged both Buenos Aires and London.”[15]

Miguel Juarez Celman[edit]

President Miguel Juárez Celman, who was in office from 1886 to 1890, came to the presidency as a result of electoral fraud. Through a policy known as “Unicato,” Celman, who opposed universal suffrage and considered it to be always an error “to consult the people,” assumed total power in Argentina, bringing together the forces of business and politics in ways that enabled both to profit at the expense of the state treasury. An English newspaper of the time is quoted as describing Argentinian corruption as follows: “Today there are dozens of men in government who are publicly accused of malpractice, who in any civilized country would be quickly punished with imprisonment, and yet none of them have been brought to justice. Meanwhile Celman is at liberty to enjoy the comfort of his farm and no one thinks to punish him.” Celman was, however, eventually removed from office in the Revolution of 1890, amid allegations of corruption.[16]

The Infamous Decade[edit]

Main article: Infamous Decade

The period between 1930 and 1943, starting when José Félix Uriburu came to power, was known as the Infamous Decade owing to the high degree of corruption involving both the ruling party and its opponents. This period was marked by electoral fraud, persecution of political opponents, and government corruption generally. The key scandal of the era centered on CHADE (Companía Hispano Argentina de Electricidad), a supplier of electricity, whose bribery of officials was so transparent that the recipients of the bribes were known as “chadistas.”[17]

“Prosecutor of the Nation”[edit]

Lisandro de la Torre, who was a Senator in the 1930s, earned the nickname “Prosecutor of the Nation” for the investigation into the corruption-ridden meat trade that he spearheaded in 1935. During the investigation, a disciple of de la Torre's, Enzo Bordabehere, was murdered by Ramón Valdez Cora, who was believed to have been out to kill de la Torre himself.[18][19]

Juan Domingo Perón[edit]

Stating in 2002 that all of Argentina's troubles at that time could be traced to “the dilapidated state of its political and legal institutions,” Brink Lindsey of the Wall Street Journal traced this problem to the first administration of Juan Domingo Perón (who ruled Argentina from 1946 to 1955, and then again from 1973 to 1974). Lindsey noted that before Perón took power, “justices of Argentina’s Supreme Court enjoyed long tenures undisturbed by political interference” and that “at the beginning of Perón’s first administration in 1946, Supreme Court justices averaged 12 years on the bench.”[20]

It was Argentinian corruption, particularly that of Perón and his first wife, Eva Perón, that made it possible for Nazis such as Adolf Eichmann to settle in Argentina after World War II. Some historians have suggested that during her 1947 European tour Eva Perón may have opened secret Swiss bank accounts “to stash funds and valuables she allegedly received from Nazis in exchange for Argentine passports and visas.”[21]

Since 1946, wrote Lindsey, “It’s been downhill,” with the Supreme Court “reduced to a puppet of executive power.”[20] In 1950, writes one source, “Argentina's postwar export boom tapered off, and inflation and corruption grew.”[22] Perón was overthrown in September 1955 by a coup motivated largely by the growing popular discontent over corruption.

Military junta[edit]

See also: Dirty War

After the ousting by a military coup of Perón's second wife, Isabel Martínez de Perón, who served as president from 1974 to 1976, Argentina was ruled for six years by a military junta led by three military dictators in succession who oversaw a reign of terror. Jorge Rafael Videla, who was dictator of Argentina from 1976 to 1981, was responsible for extensive kidnapping and torture, thousands of forced disappearances, the murders of some 15,000 to 30,000 dissidents and political enemies and their families at secret concentration camps, and the kidnapping and sale of babies born at the camps. His policies were continued by his successors, Roberto Viola (1981) and Leopoldo Galtieri (1981-82).

Videla, convicted of homicides, kidnapping, torture, and other crimes, was sentenced to life in prison, pardoned by President Menem in 1990, imprisoned briefly again in 1998 for kidnapping babies, and, after Menem's pardon was ruled unconstitional in 2006, returned to prison in 2012, where he died the next year.[23][24][25] Viola also spent several years in prison, while Galtieri died in January 2003 while being prosecuted for kidnapping children and “disappearing” people.[26][27]

Raúl Ricardo Alfonsín[edit]

Although Raúl Ricardo Alfonsín, who was president from 1983 to 1989, won international recognition for human-rights reforms, for overseeing the trials of the military juntas, and for fighting corruption, Argentinian business and government continued to be marked by severe corruption during his period in office. His National Customs Director, Juan Carlos Delconte, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1998 for aggravated smuggling after it was discovered that he had been running a secret “parallel customs” system.[28]

Carlos Menem[edit]

Corruption allegations “swirled” throughout Carlos Menem's two terms as president (1989–99).[20] Menem reportedly “used the resources coming from privatizations to strengthen his inner circle and the Perónist corrupt clientelistic machine working at provincial levels.” He “allowed provincial and local governments to contract loans, contributing thus to an increase in the national debt that would contribute to the severe financial crisis years later, prompting the downfall of President De La Rúa.”[29]

Yomagate (1991)[edit]

Main article: Yomagate

A cocaine trafficking operation revealed in 1991 involved the shipment of large sums of drug money from New York City to Argentina, where it was laundered through the purchase of real estate, jewelry, or businesses, or diverted to Uruguay. Amira Yoma, who was at the center of the scandal, was Menem's secretary and sister-in-law, and was eventually cleared of all charges.[30][31][32]

Domingo Cavallo and Alfredo Yabrán[edit]

Menem's Finance Minister, Domingo Cavallo, “built his reputation on fighting corruption inside Government agencies and privatized industries,” reported the New York Times in 1996. As a result he was “unpopular within the Government” and “sparred publicly” with Menem.[1]

Cavallo accused businessman Alfredo Yabrán in 1995 of being a sort of mafia boss who enjoyed political and judicial protection, who covertly ran several major transport and security companies including Correo OCA (which handled 30% of the Argentine postal market), and whose firms were involved in drugs and weapons trafficking and money laundering. After Jose Luis Cabezas, a journalist who was investigating Yabrán, was murdered, it was shown that Yabrán had connections at the highest levels of government and had bought Menem a mansion. Yabrán was found dead in 1998, a supposed suicide, although some observers questioned whether he had in fact killed himself, and some raised doubts as to whether the body was even his.[32][33] However, there have been no sighting reports, and the DNA testings on the corpse confirmed that it was Yabrán.[33]

Swiftgate (1990)[edit]

Main article: Swiftgate

When the U.S. ambassador to Argentina informed the Argentinian government in 1990 that Menem advisor Emir Yoma had solicited a bribe from Swift, the U.S. firm, it led to a scandal, known as Swiftgate, the result of which was that Yoma resigned in 1991 and Antonio Erman Gonzalez left the Ministry of Economy. The whistleblower, economist Guillermo Nielsen, had to move to Uruguay as a result of threats.[34][35][36]

IBM scandal (1995-98)[edit]

In 1995, allegations emerged that IBM-Argentina had paid US$37m in kickbacks and bribes in 1993 to win a $250m contract with the government-run Banco de la Nación. In 1998, arrest warrants were issued for four former IBM executives and Judge Angelo Bagnasco charged ten people with crimes, including a former president of Banco de la Nación and IBM-Argentina's former CEO and former COO.[37] The New York Times noted in 1996 that six months after the initial revelations, the IBM scandal was “still front page news in Argentina, as new disclosures emerge almost weekly, tainting the computer giant's reputation for honesty here.”[1] In 2000, IBM was ordered by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to pay a civil penalty of US$300,000.[38]

Arms-shipment deal and other Menem scandals (2001-)[edit]

In 2001, Menem was finally arrested “for his alleged role in an illegal arms-shipments deal,” involving the export of weapons to Ecuador and Croatia in 1991 and 1996, only to be set free “after five months of house arrest...by his hand-picked Supreme Court.”[20] After his release, Menem and his second wife, Cecilia Bolocco, moved to Chile, from which Argentine authorities sought to have him extradited to face embezzlement charges. After the arrest warrants were canceled, Menem and his family returned to Argentina in December 2004. A 2008 settlement between Siemens and the U.S. government revealed that Menem had accepted about US$2 million in bribes from Siemens in exchange for awarding that firm the national ID card and passport production contract.

In 2012, Menem was ordered to stand trial for obstruction of justice in an investigation of a 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in which 85 people died; he was accused of covering up evidence connecting the attack to Hezbollah and Iran. In 2013, after an Appeals Court ruling found guilty of smuggling weapons to Ecuador and Croatia, he was sentenced to seven years in prison. As a Senator, however, he was immune from incarceration, and was instead placed under house arrest. Oscar Camilión, who had been his Defense Minister, was sentenced to five and a half years.[39][40][41][42]

Fernando de la Rúa[edit]

Fernando de la Rúa, president of Argentina from 1999-2001, was investigated in 2006, along with several members of his administration, on charges of financial irregularities during his presidency allegedly involving such international banks as Credit Suisse, First Boston Corporation, HSBC Bank Argentina, JP Morgan Securities, and Salomon Smith Barney.[43] De la Rúa was also indicted in 2008 on a charge of “aggravated active bribery.” He was accused of having bribed senators to vote for changes in the labor law that were required by the International Monetary Fund. Several senators were also indicted on charges of accepting the bribes.[44] He was also indicted on homicide charges in 2007, on the grounds that he had ordered attacks on demonstrators.[45] De la Rúa escaped conviction in all these cases.

Néstor Kirchner[edit]

“In 1992,” writes one source, Néstor Kirchner,” then governor of the province of Santa Cruz, and his then deputy, Cristina Kirchner, “intensely and successfully lobbied President Carlos Menem to sell the state oil company YPF. As a reward, in 1993, the federal government paid Santa Cruz Province $654 million (US) in long-outstanding royalties owed by YPF. Once the funds reached Santa Cruz, and changed from federal funds into provincial funds, Mr. Kirchner immediately expatriated them. Ever since then little is known about what happened to the funds.” Reportedly, after Kirchner became president in 2003, he placed the funds in banks in Switzerland and Luxembourg. A civil suit was filed against Kirchner in 2004, but it was dismissed in 2005 by the judge, who was Kirchner's nephew-in-law.

One of the cables made public by Wikileaks noted that while Néstor Kirchner “campaigned in 2003 on a strong anti-corruption message and his first Justice Minister, Gustavo Beliz, championed the cause of rooting out official corruption,...the government has placed less emphasis on fighting corruption since Beliz was fired in 2004.”[5]

Cristina Fernández Kirchner[edit]

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has been described as having “carried the haze of corruption” even before her presidency, with the source of her fortune being the source of widespread speculation. Both her campaign for the presidency and the election itself were marked by accusations of corruption.[46]

Valijagate scandal[edit]

Main article: Maletinazo

In August 2007, Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, a self-identified member of the entourage of Hugo Chávez, who was about to visit Argentina, arrived in Argentina on a private flight paid for by Argentine and Venezuelan state officials. Wilson was carrying $800,000 USD in cash, which he did not declare and which the police seized on arrival. A few days later Wilson, a Venezuelan-American and a close friend of Chávez's, was a guest at a signing ceremony involving Fernández and Chávez at the Casa Rosada. He was later arrested on money laundering and contraband charges. It was established that the cash was to have been delivered to the Kirchner's as a clandestine contribution to Fernández's campaign chest from the leftist President Chávez. Fernández was a political ally of Chávez and was a fellow leftist herself. This was seen as a similar move that Chávez allegedly used to give payments to leftist candidates in presidential races for Bolivia and Mexico in order to get backing for his anti-US beliefs.[47]

The incident led to a scandal and what Bloomberg News called “an international imbroglio,” with the U.S. accusing five men of being secret Chávez agents whose mission was to cover up the attempt to deliver the cash.[48][49]

Sinaloa Cartel involvement in 2007 elections[edit]

In 2007, the Sinaloa Cartel’s local methamphetamine partners were a major source of Fernández's campaign financing. (See below.)[4] This is illustrative of the extensive ties to organized crime that, according to American Task Force Argentina, constitute “the most troubling aspect of political corruption in Argentina.”[4]

Election fraud accusations (2007)[edit]

After the 2007 election, one of the candidates demanded a recount, alleging fraud and irregularities. Two weeks after the election, however, authorities had “yet to examine more than 10% of the vote-count telegrams.”[50]

Recent years[edit]

Public perceptions[edit]

In July 2013, 72% of Argentinians thought that corruption in their country had increased during the previous year, with politicians and parties identified as the most corrupt institutions.[51]

Buenos Aires street protests (November 2012)[edit]

Thousands of Argentinians held a street protest against their government in Buenos Aires in November 2012, waving signs that read: “Stop the wave of Argentinians killed by crime, enough with corruption and say no to constitutional reform.” An elderly woman told a reporter: “This government is just a bunch of hooligans and corrupters.” And a middle-aged Argentinian expatriate who lives in Spain said: “In Argentina, there's no separation of power and it cannot be considered a democracy.” The Guardian noted that Argentinians were plagued by “increasingly bold home robberies, in which armed bands tie up families until victims hand over the cash that many Argentinians have kept at home since the government froze savings accounts and devalued the currency in 2002. The vast majority of the crimes are never solved, while the death toll is rising.”[52]

Nationwide protests (April 2013)[edit]

Nationwide demonstrations on April 18, 2013, focused largely on corruption and “[t]he sense of official impunity.”[53] “A giant wave of peaceful protesters took to the streets of Argentina,” reported The Guardian, “banging spoons against kitchen pots, in a rally that attracted even larger crowds than a similar mass demonstration in November against corruption, inflation and insecurity under Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.” Organized via Facebook and Twitter, the rally “was fuelled by anger against judicial overhaul being pushed through Congress that could give the government virtual control of the courts” and came in the wake of “allegations that businessmen laundered tens of millions of euros obtained from public work contracts through offshore accounts.”[54] Protesters carried signs reading "Argentina, wake up!" and "Corrupt Cristina."[55]

Concerns by foreign powers[edit]

In 2011, Wikileaks cables revealed that diplomats from the United States, Germany, Spain and Finland “repeatedly expressed their concerns about the level of corruption in Argentina in recent years.”[5] In May 2008, for example, the Secretary General of the Spanish cabinet, Bernardino León was quoted in a Wikileaks cable as saying that “Spanish companies in Argentina were highly concerned with the populist emphasis of the Argentine government, political polarization and the extended level of corruption” among the Kirchner network.[5] In February 2008, German ambassador Wolf Rolf Schumacher also expressed concern with the attitude of close members of the Cristina Kirchner administration towards cases or acts of corruption.[5]

A great number of the Wikileaks cables indicate that the U.S. Embassy in Argentina has been actively involved in anti-corruption efforts on the part of Argentinian officials and others in Argentina. The Spanish newspaper El Pais reported in 2011 that “official corruption in Argentina worries the U.S., whose embassy in Buenos Aires sent to the State Department over a hundred confidential dispatches over several years warning about the fragility of the judicial system in the South American country and about the impunity of those who commit crimes.”[50]

Areas[edit]

Political corruption[edit]

Several parties announced in 2013, under the slogan "No more to corruption" ("Nunca más a la corrupción"), that they would propose that the Argentinian parliament create a bicameral commission to investigate government corruption.[6] Margarita Stolbizer, a candidate in the 2013 elections, released a “Corruption Report” in August 2013, saying: “Corruption is dramatically black , because it is a corruption that has cost lives.” Another candidate, Ricardo Alfonsin, submitted a set of proposals for increased transparency.[56]

Quoting Pope Francis's description of corruption as "a weed of our times that infects politics, economy, and society," the editors of La Nación accused Argentinian officials in October 2013 of "embezzlement, bribery, extortion, illicit enrichment, negotiations incompatible with the exercise of public functions, concealment and laundering,...influence peddling and misappropriation of public funds,"[6] and blamed official corruption for 194 deaths at a bowling alley in 2004, 51 deaths in a train crash in Once in 2012, and 60 deaths in floods in 2013. The newspaper also attributed deficiencies in public access to housing and health care to various forms of corruption, ranging from outright embezzlement to the placement of medical aircraft at the service of officials instead of patients.[6]

In a December 2013 editorial triggered by Argentina's poor performance in the latest corruption ratings by Transparency International, the editors of La Nación stated that the Argentinian government "encourages lying, concealment and illegality." The newspaper's editors complained about the "very high level of impunity" for corrupt officials, and called on the government to promote a "culture of transparency" which would make possible a "culture of legality."[57]

There were 25 public cases in 2012 in which former and current government officials were accused of illicit enrichment.[6] Asked in 2013 to rate the corruption of Argentina’s political parties, members of the general public gave them a score of 4.3 (with 1 meaning “not at all corrupt” and 5 meaning “extremely corrupt”).[4] In September 2013, Ricardo Jaime, who had been Kirchner's Transportation Secretary, was given a six-month suspended sentence on charges of withholding evidence in a case of unjust enrichment.[58] Ombudsman Eduardo Mondino told U.S. Ambassador Anthony Wayne in 2011 about allegations that the Argentine government charged a 15% commission on all private international contracts, and wanted Wayne to help find out whether the earnings were being deposited in a U.S. bank. A German CEO also told Planning Minister Julio De Vido that one of the latter's aides had asked him for a bribe.[50]

Patronage jobs[edit]

As an example of Argentinian political corruption, Brink Lindsey of the Wall Street Journal has noted that “[t]he public sector in Tucumán...serves primarily to enrich politicians and fund patronage jobs. Out of a formal work force of some 400,000, there are nearly 80,000 provincial and municipal government employees and another 10,000 federal government workers. Elected officials siphon off small fortunes for themselves: The annual salary for provincial legislators is roughly $300,000.” Such corruption, stated Lindsey, is common elsewhere in Argentina. In the Formosa province, for example, “about half of all formally employed workers are on the government payroll, and many show up only once a month — to collect their paychecks.”[20]

Such corruption, Lindsey wrote, was the root cause of Argentina's financial crisis. He noted that while “It is fashionable now to blame Argentina’s problems on the free market,” in fact “Argentina’s tragic crack-up occurred not because pro-market reforms went too far, but because they did not go nearly far enough.” Lindsey suggested that “A healthy market economy requires not just the absence of statist controls; it requires the presence of sound institutions. And although the reforms of the Menem era made strides toward meeting the former requirement, they ignored the latter altogether. Today Argentina is suffering grievously from that oversight.”[20]

Impunity[edit]

“The sense of official impunity,” according to American Task Force Argentina, “was one of the major complaints at nationwide demonstrations on April 18.”[4] The reference is to the huge protests that took place around the country in April 2013.

Lack of transparency[edit]

Another linchpin of official corruption in Argentina is the lack of public access to government information. There is a 2003 decree that provides for such access, but it applies only to executive entities and companies that receive state funds. Transparency International has called for a federal law that would increase transparency and accountability.[8]

Money laundering[edit]

A major category of official corruption in Argentina has been money laundering. In a March 2009 cable, the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires reported on the controversy over Argentina's new tax amnesty law, which was widely regarded as helping to facilitate money laundering. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) had told the Argentine press that “It's not enough to have a good law, you have to apply it.”[50] In 2011, however, Transparency International commended Argentina for a law enacted that year that recognizes money laundering as an offense in and of itself and prescribes substantial punishments.[8] Nonetheless, in October 2013 the Financial Action Task Force decided to keep Argentina on its “gray list” because of the government's continued lack of control of money laundering.[59]

Political financing[edit]

Another area in which there is extensive corruption in Argentina is political financing. There is an insufficient degree of transparency and accountability, and although recently passed legislation forbids donations by companies to political campaigns, there are ways for businesses to skirt the law and cover non-campaign expenses by politicians and parties. Incumbents also enjoy a decided advantage.[8]

Cristina Fernández election campaign (2007)[edit]

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has been described as having “carried the haze of corruption” even before her presidency, with the source of her fortune being the source of widespread speculation. Both her campaign for the presidency and the election itself were marked by accusations of corruption.[46]

Valijagate scandal[edit]

Main article: Maletinazo

In August 2007, Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, a self-identified member of the entourage of Hugo Chávez, who was about to visit Argentina, arrived in Argentina on a private flight paid for by Argentine and Venezuelan state officials. Wilson was carrying US$790,550 in cash, which he did not declare and which the police seized on arrival. A few days later Wilson, a Venezuelan-American and a close friend of Chávez's, was a guest at a signing ceremony involving Kirchner and Chávez at the Casa Rosada. He was later arrested on money laundering and contraband charges, and it was established that the cash was to have been delivered to the Kirchners as a clandestine contribution to Fernández's campaign chest.

The incident led to a scandal and what Bloomberg News called “an international imbroglio,” with the U.S. accusing five men of being secret Chávez agents whose mission was to cover up the attempt to deliver the cash.[48][49]

Sinaloa Cartel involvement in 2007 elections[edit]

In 2007, the Sinaloa Cartel’s local methamphetamine partners were a major source of Fernández's campaign financing. (See below.)[4] This is illustrative of the extensive ties to organized crime that, according to American Task Force Argentina, constitute “the most troubling aspect of political corruption in Argentina.”[4]

Skansa case (2007)[edit]

In 2007, Federal Judge Guillermo Montenegro was leading an investigation into bribes allegedly paid to former government officials working on a gas pipeline project, and Carlos Stornelli was serving as prosecutor on the case, when both men received job offers that were viewed as motivated by a government attempt to stall the investigation. Montenegro received an offer from Buenos Aires Mayor-elect Mauricio Macri to join his cabinet as Security and Justice Minister, while Vice President offered Stornelli a job as Security Minister in Buenos Aires province. If both men accepted the offers, the result would be a year-long halt in the investigation and prosecution of the Skansa case.[50]

Ombudsman meeting with U.S. ambassador (2008)[edit]

An April 2008 cable later made public by Wikileaks noted that the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina had met with Argentina's National Ombudsman Dr. Eduardo Mondino, who had told him about “a case he is investigating involving possible corruption related to commissions being charged on government contractual transactions, the proceeds of which are being deposited in a U.S. bank.”[50]

Fernando de la Rua acquittal (2013)[edit]

Former President Fernando de la Rua was acquitted in December 2013 of corruption charges dating back to the year 2000. The charges focused on the alleged bribing of opposition parliamentarians.[60]

Santa Cruz property case (2011)[edit]

One of the Wikileaks cables mentions an investigation of members of the Kirchner administration and its business allies in Santa Cruz province. The investigation focused on the purchase and resale, at massive profits, of large tracts of public land by “approximately 50 top administration officials, including the Kirchners, and pro-administration businesspeople during the final years of the tenure of Néstor Mendez, the mayor of El Calafate from 1995 to 2007.” As of March 2011, the investigation into this case was being directed by prosecutor Natalia Mercado, the Kirchners' niece.[5]

Ralph Lauren (2013)[edit]

In April 2013, “Ralph Lauren paid $1.6 million to the SEC to settle allegations that it bribed [Argentinian] customs officials $568,000 in cash between 2005 and 2009 and gave three different government officials gifts of perfume, dresses and handbags valued at as much as $14,000.”[4]

Rubbish collection (2013)[edit]

Poder Ciudadano issued a report in 2013 warning that there is little or no transparency, and little or nothing in the way of anti-corruption safeguards, in the selection of firms for municipal rubbish collection. The group issued recommendations for policy changes that would overcome these problems.[61]

Elisa Carrio's denounces[edit]

In June 2013, MP Elisa Carrio told the media that years earlier, when she was heading a Special Investigative Committee on Money Laundering, Arturo Puricelli, an old rival of Kirchner's who was named security minister in 2013, had shown her how Kirchner stole money. According to one source, Puricelli was not excluded from the government “because he knows all about Kirchner.”[62]

New laws on government contracts (2013)[edit]

Poder Ciudadano expressed concern over November 2013 laws passed by the Buenos Aires legislature and urged that they be vetoed. The concern was that the laws, dealing with government contracts, would reduce transparency and eliminate control mechanisms, thus promoting corruption.[63]

Boudougate (2010-13)[edit]

Main article: Boudougate

Argentina's revenue service, the AFIP, called for the printing house Ciccone Calcográfica to go bankrupt in July 2010, but two months later, after Ciccone received 2.3 million pesos from the Old Fund, a shell corporation whose representative, Alejandro Vandenbroele, thereupon became president of Ciccone, the AFIP rescinded its request and, on orders from the Kirchnerist Minister of Economy Amado Boudou, allowed Ciccone time to refinance its debts. After Laura Muñoz, Vandenbroele's ex-wife, publicly accused him of being a front for Boudou, the latter denied the charge, but in April 2012 a judicial investigation revealed that Vandenbroele had paid the rent for a flat belonging to Boudou. Members of Parliament tried unsuccessfully to impeach Boudou. In September 2013, a Federal Court permitted Boudou to file for a dismissal of charges. Despite the scandal, the Central Bank of Argentina commissioned Ciccone in March 2012 to print banknotes.[64][65]

Lázaro Báez case (2013)[edit]

Main article: The K money trail

A massive and complicated scandal that emerged piecemeal over the course of much of 2013 focused on the Kirchners' relationship to public-works contractor Lázaro Báez, an longtime friend and business associate of theirs whose companies had been awarded many public works contracts during both Kirchners' presidencies. Journalist Jorge Lanata, on successive episodes of his highly rated Sunday-evening public-affairs program “Periodismo para todos” (“Journalism for All”), served up numerous revelations which were devastating for both Báez and for Fernández.

Among much else, Báez would appear to have funneled taxpayer money from his government contracts back to the Kirchners in the form of rent payments for rooms at hotels owned by the couple. The official books of Báez-owned companies showed that they had spent millions of dollars “to reserve a third of the Kirchners' hotel rooms, whether the rooms were used or not.” The state-owned airline Aerolineas Argentinas “guaranteed another third of the rooms, providing a steady flow of profits to the presidential couple's private businesses.”[66]

Lanata also covered the fact that Báez, who was described as monopolozing all public works in Santa Cruz province, had bought several estates in Santa Cruz for USD28 million in 2007, allegedly having been informed that the province intended to build hydroelectric dams on the land. A company owned by Báez ended up constructing the dams.

In addition, Lanata’s program aired hidden-camera footage in which a Báez associate, Leonardo Fariña, admitted to involvement in a money-laundering network that handled proceeds from government corruption. Fariña had deposited 55 million euros of Báez's funds in Switzerland and said that Kirchner knew all about Báez's operations and was a partner in all of them.

Also on the TV series, Mirima Quiroga, Kirchner’s former secretary, told about how “bags full of money” were received by Kirchner once or twice a week in Buenos Aires and flown to Santa Cruz to be placed in vaults in his family mansion.[67][68]

Furthermore, Lanata revealed that “a vault in one of the houses of Báez, thought to contain millions in cash, delicate documentation and weapons, was rapidly converted into a wine cellar” after “a truckload of cash, documents and guns” were moved out of the home. One of the workers who took part in the conversion of the vault into a wine cellar “apparently feared consequences of what he was doing and for security reasons with his cell phone took all the pictures possible.” Lanata sardonically congratulated Báez, who only a few years earlier had been a low-level bank employee, “for having made a fortune faster than Henry Ford or Bill Gates.”

Lanata also devoted some attention on his program “to Argentine judges and prosecutors, most of them reluctant to take the case, mainly apparently because several of the cases have been transferred to Rio Gallegos courts where all of them are known to be ‘Kirchnerite’ appointees, some of them even with direct links to Báez and his Patagonian empire.”[69]

On an August 2013 episode of his program, Lanata charged that Fernández had stayed in the Seychelles, a tax haven, in January 2013 as part of a money-laundering operation involving Báez. A week later Lanata hosted on his program Nella De Luca, a Venezuelan journalist who claimed to have stayed in the same hotel as Fernández in the Seychelles at that time. Shortly after the program aired, the Casa Rosada issued a statement to the effect that Fernández's plane had made a "technical stop" in the Seychelles.[70] After Lanata's report about Báez and the Seychelles, Oscar Parrilli, Secretary General of the Presidency, called Lanata a “media assassin,” in response to which Lanata said on CNN that he would take the matter to court.[71] Responding to Parrilli's remarks, the Association of Journalistic Entities warned that public officials' attacks on Lanata undermined democracy and could trigger violence.[72]

At one point, the government chose to blunt the impact of Lanata's show by scheduling evening matches between two very popular soccer teams, the Boca Juniors and River Plate, directly opposite the Sunday-night program. As it turned out, however, more viewers watched Lanata's show than the soccer matches.[66]

Judicial integrity[edit]

Argentinian courts “are slow, inefficient, and vulnerable to corruption and executive branch influence,” according to a 2013 Heritage Foundation report.[7] The general perception is that many members of Argentina's judiciary are political appointees who enjoy a close relationship with the executive branch. Another major problem is that the judicial system is plagued by inefficiency, delays, and insufficient administrative support.[8] It is a common practice for government officials to offer political jobs to judges in charge of important cases, thereby derailing the cases.[50]

The Centre for the Study and Prevention of Economic Crimes has noted that corruption cases in Argentina take an average of 14 years to be resolved. Out of 750 cases tried during a certain period, only 15 resulted in convictions.[5] This is said to be the result of Fernández's “neuter[ing]” of “government oversight,” which she has accomplished by “giving auditing posts to cronies compromised by conflicts of interest.”[46]

The American Task Force Argentina has complained that “the Argentine government is not doing much to address the public’s concern. In fact, President Kirchner is pushing to institute new judicial reforms that would alter how judges are appointed and would thereby make them more susceptible to political pressures from the ruling party. Various groups around the world have expressed concern that the new laws will undermine an independent judiciary at a time of mounting charges of official corruption.”[4]

La Nación accused the government in October 2013 of seeking "to impose an absurd judicial reform" designed largely "to guarantee the impunity of those in power." The newspaper also accused the government of amending the "reform" of the civil and commercial codes in order to enhance the impunity of public officials, "thus distorting the original initiative."[6]

In November 2013, the Court of Criminal Appeals canceled the prosecution of 25 individuals who had been government ministers and high officials under Menem and who had been accused of accepting inappropriate bonuses. The prosecution was canceled on the grounds that the defendants' right of due process had been violated. Among the defendants were former Labor Minister José Armando Caro Figueroa, former Justice Minister Elias Jassan, former Interior Secretary Adelina Dalesio de Viola, and former Secretary of Trade and Investment Carlos Sánchez. The case was remanded to a lower court.[73]

Zannini case (2013)[edit]

Carlos Zannini, the Executive Legal advisor for the Kirchner administration, was accused in 2012 of several charges, including embezzlement of public funds, money laundering, and corruption. From 2003 to 2011 his personal wealth was reported to have increased by nearly thirty-eightfold. A complaint was filed accusing him of these crimes headed largely by Judge Norberto Oyarbide. However, the case was suspended for a time and only recently was the complaint further pursued.[74]

It has been reported that members of Kirchner's administration and of the government have stalled the case and interfered in many ways. For instance, when Oyarbide ordered an investigative raid on Zannini's property to attain evidence, Carlos Liuzzi, a presidential secretary and subordinate of Zannini's, reportedly called him and ordered him to cancel the raid and offered him a bribe. Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich was asked to comment on the accusation, although no clear answers have been given.[74][75] Oscar Parrilli, another legal advisor of the presidential cabinet, stated that such accusations were false and that no call was ever made.[76] However, Oyarbide has publicly stated that he did receive a call from Liuzzi asking him to halt the raid.[77]

Zaffaroni case (2011)[edit]

In August 2011, the news that Supreme Court Justice Eugenio Zaffaroni owned six brothels caused a media frenzy. Journalist Michael Kurtz wrote that “no one pressured him to recuse himself from the court, even temporarily, to clear his name,” and a fellow justice called it a “private matter.” Also in 2011, “the Securities and Exchange Commission charged former Siemens executives with bribing two consecutive Argentine presidents – Carlos Menem and Fernando de la Rua – with $100 million to secure a contract for a $1 billion national ID card.” Kurtz concluded. “If the football federation launders money, if 13,000 police officers can be arrested for crimes, and if 60% of Argentines in a national survey believe they can pay law enforcement officials to avoid infractions, this society’s problems might run deeper than mere technocratic adjustment.”[3]

Bendini case (2008)[edit]

Army Chief of Staff Roberto Bendini resigned in September 2008 in the wake of an Appeals Court's decision to proceed with charges against him for “peculado,” or the improper diversion of funds. Bendini had been promoted over more senior generals by Kirchner despite Defense Minister Garre's apparent lack of confidence in him. Bendini was described as having operated a “parallel” bank account into which he diverted large sums of government money.[50]

Shared Dreams case (2011)[edit]

Main article: Schoklender scandal

In a 2011 article entitled “Corruption in Argentina,” The Economist noted that Shared Dreams, the “social-work arm” of the once-respected Association of Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, had become mired in corruption. Granted $45m of public funds to build housing for the poor, the group hired Meldorek, a company that was owned by Sergio Schoklender, who had been imprisoned for 14 years for murdering his parents, and that, according to other contractors, “was charging twice the market rate for homebuilding.” After Schoklender left the firm, the courts began “investigating allegations of fraud, money-laundering and illegal enrichment.” The Economist noted that President Fernández's closeness to the Association of Mothers risked “becoming an embarrassment.”[78]

Restrictions on election monitoring (2013)[edit]

The National Electoral Commission said on December 10, 2013, that the National Electoral Board in Bueno Aires had placed excessive restrictions on the electoral observers Poder Ciudadano (Citizen Power). The Commission complained that some purported electoral observers were treated very differently than others.[79]

Pharmaceutical and narcotics corruption[edit]

In late 2008, the then Minister of Health of Argentina, María Graciela Ocaña, informed U.S. Ambassador Anthony Wayne that pharmaceutical corruption was one of many major problems afflicting the country's health-care system. Citing allegations of price manipulation and fraudulent products, Ocaña called for greater transparency on the part of the agency responsible for distributing drugs. Also, the Argentinian government was purchasing “fraudulent medicines” from pharmaceutical manufacturers that had contributed to Fernández's 2007 election campaign. Ocaña said it was a challenge to effectively run her ministry when the money allocated for public health was in fact going to “other places.”[50]

Although a 2013 report by the U.S. State Department indicates that the Argentinian government “neither encourages nor facilitates the illicit production or distribution of narcotics, psychotropic drugs, or other controlled substances, or the laundering of proceeds from illegal drug transactions, and there is no evidence to suggest senior government officials are engaged in such activity,” and also notes that an “independent judiciary and an investigative press actively pursue allegations of corrupt practices involving government authorities,” in fact “several security force members, including high-ranking officers,” were accused in 2012 “of either trafficking significant amounts of cocaine and/or marijuana or protecting drug trafficking organizations.”[80]

According to one 2013 source, “Argentina is now a key source of precursor chemicals for Mexican cartels,” with “the epicenter of the country's drug trade” being the city of Rosario. There were minimal import restrictions on these “precursor chemicals,” including ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, which are used to produce drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine, and the Kirchner and Fernández government were loath to impose restrictions, since this trade “was the source of much of their campaign financing.” Pharmaceutical companies were among the Kirchners' largest campaign donors, and local partners of the Sinaloa Cartel are said to have “bankrolled a large portion of Fernández's campaign, playing a significant role in her victory.”[81] In 2007, the Sinaloa Cartel’s local methamphetamine partners were a major source of Fernández's campaign financing. This group accounted for about 4.5 million pesos, out of a total of less than 15 million pesos, of donations to her campaign.[4]

Anti-corruption institutions[edit]

The principal government entities whose role is to fight official corruption are the Auditor General 's Office and the Anti-Corruption Office. There are similar entitles in each province and in the Buenos Aires municipal government.

Transparency International has complained that such agencies as the Anti-Corruption Office, the Auditor General's Office, and the General Comptrollers Office “need a more robust mandate to hold public officials to account” and should “be independent and more proactive in corruption investigations.”[8]

Leaked Wikileaks cables revealed that in 2007, Dr. Abel Fleitas Ortiz Rozas, then head of Argentina’s Office of Anticorruption, told the US ambassador of the challenges Argentina faces in its fight against corruption, among them “a general public tolerance of corruption, the lack of a culture of transparency, and a slow and cumbersome legal system that hinders his office's ability to successfully prosecute cases.”[5]

Manuel Garrido[edit]

A May 2009 report noted “that Manuel Garrido, Argentina's top District Attorney in the National Prosecutor's Office for Administrative Investigations kept a frantic level of activity in launching over 100 investigations,” but during a more than five-year period obtained no convictions. After his March 2011 resignation, Garrido “was replaced by a close Kirchner family friend Julio Vitobello known for organizing soccer matches at the presidential residency over weekends.” Among the cases in which Garrido had been involved were “the alleged manipulation of the National Statistical Agency (INDEC) by Secretary of Internal Commerce Guillermo Moreno; the Skanska corruption allegations; the bag of money found in the office of then-Economy Minister Felisa Micelli; the alleged illicit enrichment of Néstor Kirchner and, separately, of the former debt negotiator Daniel Marx; the overpricing of public works contracts; the installation of electricity cables in southern Argentina by Electroingenieria, a company with close ties to the Kirchners which employs the son of Planning Minister De Vido; the management of official government advertising by Press Secretary Enrique Albistur; train repairs by Transport Secretary Ricardo Jaime; and the decision process for granting highway concessions.”[5]

Garrido had also filed criminal complaints against “Claudio Uberti, the former toll road regulator who was fired in the “Valijagate” scandal (money from Venezuela’s Chávez for Cristina Kirchner’s campaign), and Jorge Simeonoff in the Planning Ministry of administrative irregularities and presumed collusion with the highway construction firm Coviares in contract negotiations.”[5]

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