Politics

Murder of Cristina Kirchner ex secretary revives old ghosts

8th July 2020

By Ignacio Portes

Murder of Cristina Kirchner ex secretary revives old ghosts

The gruesome murder of Fabián Gutiérrez, former private secretary of Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, has brought back a few ghosts from Argentina’s recent past.

</p> <p>Accusations against the former president and her circle peaked during the last months of her second term, when Prosecutor <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2020/01/16/nisman-death-more-questions-than-answers-murder-suicide-amia-prosecutor">Alberto Nisman</a> was found dead in his bathroom with a shot to the head days after filing a complaint against her, and during the early days of Mauricio Macri’s presidency, when stories of Kirchnerite-era were atop of the agenda and judges, media, and opposition politicians were all looking to uncover past dirt.</p> <p>The economic crisis triggered in 2018 and deepened now by the pandemic, which helped secure Fernández de Kirchner’s return to power, brushed those concerns to the side, but a brutal murder of a former aide linked to some of those allegations put the issue back in the public eye.</p> <p>Gutiérrez was in legal trouble for a large amount of properties whose origin he could not justify, and had <a href="https://www.infobae.com/politica/2020/07/07/que-pasara-ahora-con-la-fortuna-de-fabian-gutierrez-la-camara-federal-debe-definir-si-mantiene-un-embargo-de-900-millones/">assets frozen for almost ARS 1 billion</a>. He was also a witness in the so-called “notebooks” graft investigation, in which former Public Works Ministry driver Oscar Centeno’s diary was used as the basis to imprison businessmen and former officials for kickbacks and money laundering.</p> <h2><strong>The murder</strong></h2> <p>Gutiérrez, who lived in the small tourist town of El Calafate in Patagonia’s Santa Cruz Province, where the Kirchners are also based, was missing since June 1. The discovery of his cell phone, his bloodied jacket, and a van he drove with a broken window soon triggered all red alerts, and his body was ultimately found in the early hours of June 4, buried in a cabin rented by one of four suspects currently under custody.</p> <p>According to Judge Carlos Narvarte, the crime took place in one of Gutiérrez’s houses, and the body was then moved to the rented cabin in his own van. Gutiérrez took several blows to the head, was stabbed and died of asphyxia after being repeatedly strangled, the coroner said. His slow death was described by the media as <a href="https://www.perfil.com/noticias/actualidad/autopsia-revelo-que-fabian-gutierrez-torturaron-murio-por-asfixia-mecanica.phtml">torture</a>, and suggested that the criminals might have been looking for Gutiérrez to give up something, such as money or information.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www.perfil.com/noticias/actualidad/crimen-fabian-gutierrez-quienes-son-cuatro-detenidos-que-seran-indagados-por-juez-carlos-narvarte.phtml">suspects</a> are four young men, between 19 and 23 years of age, some of them heirs of traditionally powerful Santa Cruz families. One of them, 19-year-old <a href="https://www.clarin.com/politica/muerte-fabian-gutierrez-facundo-zaeta-declaracion-principal-sospechoso_0__gdwf7l1z.html">Facundo Zaeta</a>, told the police he was a sexual partner of the victim and said he visited him on the night of the crime, although he has refused to answer questions from Judge Narvarte. Zaeta is the grandson of Oscar Zaeta, a powerful local notary, and his 21-year brother Andrés Zaeta is also among those in custody.</p> <p>The other two suspects are Facundo Gómez and Pedro Monzón, the latter of which pointed to his friend Zaeta as the perpetrator, according to <a href="https://laopinionaustral.com.ar/edicion-impresa/que-hizo-cada-acusado-el-plan-de-los-abogados-211096.html">local press reports</a>. Monzón was the only suspect who spoke at length to authorities, and it was his words that helped find the body last Saturday.</p> <h2><strong>The motive</strong></h2> <p>Although Judge Carlos Narvarte said more needed to be known before establishing a clear motive, when speaking to the press he argued that there’s signs pointing to “a potential disagreement, fight or <a href="https://cnnespanol.cnn.com/2020/07/05/fabian-gutierrez-homicidio-exsecretario-cristina-kirchner/">robbery attempt</a>.” The Judge argued that the case did not look like a “political issue” and that “things got out of hand for those kids”.</p> <p>But part of the opposition was not happy with that explanation, and immediately cast doubt over the investigation, pointing to the fact that the prosecutor, Natalia Mercado, is the daughter of Governor Alicia Kirchner, and thus niece of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.</p> <p>“We demand that, due to the possible connection of this death with Federal crimes, the investigation should be under the jurisdiction of the Federal Justice. And that no family members of Vice President Cristina Kirchner are involved in the procedure. The provincial courts are already trying to spread hypotheses about what happened with no concrete proof,” a press release from the <em>Juntos por el Cambio</em> coalition published shortly after Gutiérrez’s body was found <a href="https://www.telam.com.ar/notas/202007/485877-bullrich-defendio-el-documento-de-jxc-y-reitero-pedido-de-audiencia-al-presidente-alberto-fernandez.html">said</a>.</p> <p>The joint <em>Juntos por el Cambio</em> statement hid some internal differences, with <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2020/05/28/is-ba-mayor-larreta-now-an-ally-of-alberto-fernandez">the sector led by Mauricio Macri and Patricia Bullrich</a> going ahead with the communiqué without consulting BA Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, María Eugenia Vidal or other opposition leaders, who were reportedly unhappy with it.</p> <p>Graciana Peñafort, a lawyer an adviser for the Vice President, <a href="https://www.minutouno.com/notas/5114857-fabian-gutierrez-no-aporto-ninguna-prueba-decisiva-y-nadie-fue-preso-su-testimonio">replied</a> to the communiqué arguing that “some irresponsible sectors within the opposition are saying Gutiérrez was killed because he was an informant and protected witness of the notebooks case. It’s a big lie that shows the opposition just wants to use deaths for political advantage. Gutiérrez was not a protected witness and did not give any decisive information, no one went to jail for his testimony.”</p> <h2><strong>The “Fort Knox” legend</strong></h2> <p>Though there are really no elements tying the murder to the Gutiérrez testimony in the notebooks investigation, the fact that the suspects seemed to have been looking for money (Facundo Zaeta himself told the police that Gómez called him while they were at his house asking for “<a href="lanacion.com.ar/politica/caso-gutierrez-declaro-novia-facundo-zaeta-mas-nid2392843">some dollars</a>”) brought back the specter of past allegations against the Kirchners, which have included stories of bags and vaults with dollars from dirty businesses, moved around by different associates.</p> <p>The story and trail of that supposed cache of money has been a staple of journalistic investigations and conspiracy theories since it was first broken in Buenos Aires media circles by <a href="https://gettheessential.com/author/jasis">Jorge Asís</a> and popularized by TV star Jorge Lanata, who even built a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaN5ft2meVs">live-scale replica of an alleged Santa Cruz vault</a> in his studio in 2013. In his Sunday show in Canal 13, Lanata said he believed the murder of Gutiérrez could be explained by people trying to go after what’s left of that money.</p> <p>During the Macri era, prosecutors raided several Santa Cruz properties tied to the Kirchners and their associates in Santa Cruz and even made excavations on live TV looking for the money, none of which was found. Some episodes, however, have contributed to the legend, such as when former Public Works Secretary José López was caught sneaking a bag with USD 9 million and a SIG Sauer 522 LR semi-automatic rifle into a monastery, or when the son of Néstor Kirchner’s friend and public works tycoon Lázaro Báez was filmed counting millions of dollars in a tape that was later <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4An4YilXgYQ">accepted as evidence</a> against the group.</p> <p>Journalists critical of the Kirchners in Santa Cruz province have recalled this week other episodes of <a href="https://www.msn.com/es-ar/noticias/argentina/el-crimen-de-fabi%C3%A1n-guti%C3%A9rrez-los-otros-dos-secuestros-y-tres-robos-vinculados-al-dinero-k/ar-BB16scOB?li=AAggPN3">break-ins and kidnappings</a> of locals that have been tied to the stories of that money trail, suggesting there might be a pattern.</p> <h2><strong>Trustworthy authorities</strong></h2> <p>The problem is it will be hard to find anyone impartial high up in power to look into this or many other criminal allegations linked to Argentine politics.</p> <p>The death of Nisman, which at this point most impartial onlookers see as a likely suicide after making some unsustainable allegations against the Kirchners, was repeatedly framed as a Kirchnerite crime by investigators closer to the opposition, many of them in the Federal courts of Buenos Aires, where they now want to move this case. The Kirchners’ influence in Santa Cruz courts has also helped them in the past, so their rivals will remain skeptical of whatever the local judge finds, as would the Kirchnerite sympathizers if the case went to an unfriendly Federal court.</p> <p>Though the culprits of this particular crime could end up jailed, trust in Argentine judicial process is unlikely to be restored anytime soon.</p> <p>

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Ignacio Portes

Ignacio Portes is The Essential's General Editor. Former Economy editor at the Buenos Aires Herald, he has also written for publications such as Naked Capitalism, NSFWCorp and Revista Debate.