Courts switch focus to Macri after Fernández’s primary win

5th September 2019

By Luciana Bertoia

Courts switch focus to Macri after Fernández’s primary win

Alberto Fernández’s victory in the August 11 primary election had a strong impact on the federal courts. Judges and prosecutors began dusting off cases involving Mauricio Macri’s administration’s officials, while they also started to figure out what to do with the dozens of investigations targeting Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who has a good chance of becoming the next vice-president.

One day after the shocking results that ignited the current crisis, a Supreme Court spokesperson told The Essential that the result of the elections was celebrated by most of the justices. As the days wore on, Fernández praised the members of the country’s highest court, including Chief Justice Carlos Rosenkrantz, a key ally of Mauricio Macri. It was a message suggesting that, even though he has expressed his concerns about the justice system, his political priorities will not lie in the central courts, but in the Comodoro Py courthouses, where corruption cases are investigated.

</p> <h2><strong>A different wind is blowing</strong></h2> <p>Over the past four years, the judges and prosecutors who have their offices in the Comodoro Py courts have launched corruption investigations against officials working in the Fernández de Kirchner administration. Those probes were backed by Mauricio Macri&#8217;s government during his time at the <em>Casa Rosada</em>.</p> <p>But in recent weeks, the trend has started to change. The Federal Court of Appeals made two key decisions in cases that have the president&#8217;s relatives as defendants.</p> <p>The first one came in a case that includes both former officials of the Kirchnerite government as well as relatives of the Macri family, which has been involved in public works for decades. Judges Martín Irurzun and Leopoldo Bruglia annulled the indictments of former Kirchnerite infrastructure minister Julio De Vido and two of his right-hand men, Roberto Baratta and José López, in the case that investigates the bidding for the tunneling of the Sarmiento railway. The decision also cancelled Federal Judge Marcelo Martinez de Giorgi&#8217;s decision to exclude businessman Angelo Calcaterra, the president&#8217;s cousin, from the investigation.</p> <p>In a second decision, Irurzun and Bruglia supported the criminal investigation carried out by Federal Judge Ariel Lijo against officials of the then Ministry of Communications, who in June 2016 accepted a proposal from Correo Argentino SA — which belongs to the Macri family —that reduced the debt that the company has with the Argentine state. The main defendant in that investigation is the current Defense Minister Oscar Aguad, who has already been questioned by the magistrate and, according to court sources, is likely to be indicted in the next few weeks.</p> <p>This week, the grounds of the ruling issued by the Federal Oral Court (TOF) #1 that sentenced former Public Works Secretary José López to six years in prison for illicit enrichment were also made public. López rose to fame in 2016 when he was found carrying bags of cash to a convent. During the trial, López had suggested that the money was related to Fernández de Kirchner, but his testimony was dismissed by the court.</p> <p>&#8220;His account can only be taken as an attempt to improve his complicated procedural situation, which he has by no means achieved,&#8221; judges Adrián Grünberg, Ricardo Basílico and José Michilini wrote. Although the grounds were known this week, the ruling had been issued in June — two months before the primaries. It represents a strong blow against the <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/04/17/star-whistle-blower-testimony-in-cristina-corruption-probe-could-be-tainted">figure of the whistle-blower</a> used in the corruption cases against Kirchnerite officials.</p> <h2><strong>Setbacks</strong></h2> <p>Although some of the rulings can be seen as a message of peace towards Kirchnerism, there were two court decisions showing that the trend is not univocal.</p> <p>The TOF #2 decided to continue with the trial that has Fernández de Kirchner in the dock. She faces accusations of allegedly having favored Néstor Kirchner&#8217;s friend Lázaro Báez with the award of public works in the province of Santa Cruz.</p> <p>Last week, TOF 8 convicted former vice-president Amado Boudou to three years in prison for forging the documents of a car that belonged to him. A month before the primaries, the Court of Cassation confirmed the conviction of the former vice-president for bribery in the sale of the mint company Ciccone.</p> <p>If the <em>Frente de Todos</em> <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/08/29/pro-macri-rally-brings-short-term-relief-for-cambiemos">repeats the results obtained in the PASO primaries</a>, Fernández will pave his way to the Government House and the return of Fernández de Kirchner to power. Over the past four years, the former president has been indicted in eleven cases for alleged corruption acts and even in the alleged cover-up of the <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/07/18/macri-points-finger-at-iran-25-years-after-amia-bombing">AMIA attack</a> for having signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran in 2013. Several of these cases must be aired in court, but it is still unknown if the tribunals are going to move forward with the trials.</p> <p><em>The Essential</em> asked one of the most influential federal court judges what the future of the corruption trials will be like under a Fernández government. &#8220;The situation is going to be similar to that of trials for crimes against humanity (under Macri&#8217;s administration). They&#8217;re going to go on without the government pushing them forward,&#8221; he said.</p> <h2><strong>The Attorney General question</strong></h2> <p>For other magistrates, the real black hole is in the Attorney General&#8217;s office. Macri&#8217;s main objective, even before taking office in 2015, was to remove then Attorney General Alejandra Gils Carbó, seen as a key ally of Fernández de Kirchner. Gils Carbó stepped down in 2017 but Macri failed to get the Senate to give his candidate, Judge Inés Weinberg de Roca, the green light to replace her.</p> <p>Since late 2017, Eduardo Casal has overseen the Attorney General&#8217;s Office — where the policy of criminal prosecution is set. Casal made decisions in line with Macri&#8217;s interests, making it unlikely that he will continue if Fernández wins the election. According to different sources, Casal had already informally announced that he would not continue in office beyond December. His potential replacement remains speculative at present.</p> <p>As part of his onslaught on Gils Carbó, Macri decided to remove the wiretap office from her orbit and place it under the supervision of the Supreme Court. Over the past few years, leaks of recordings against former Kirchnerite officials have become frequent, leading to several complaints filed by Cristina Kirchner. The highest tribunal is working on a reform of that office, but it is difficult to know if wiretaps will remain under their jurisdiction or if they will go back to the Attorney General’s Office.</p> <h2>A cold war at the top</h2> <p>Meanwhile, the highest court has been accumulating cases filed by the provinces against the federal government, which could have a strong effect on the state coffers. The Court, while led by Ricardo Lorenzetti, always avoided issuing high impact rulings during the campaign. But times have changed in the Supreme Court — where a cold war is being waged to overthrow the current chief justice.</p> <p>Even if they don&#8217;t say so, judges also play politics and do not want to delay that game until October.</p> <p>

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Luciana Bertoia

Luciana Bertoia is a journalist specialized in judicial, political and human rights issues. She has published in Ámbito Financiero, Página/12, the Buenos Aires Herald and the International Justice Tribune.