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Cable de EE UU que analiza la renuncia del fiscal anticorrupción, Manuel Garrido

La embajada lo considera un paso atrás del gobierno argentino

ID: 205821
Date: 2009-05-06 21:41:00
Origin: 09BUENOSAIRES534
Source: Embassy Buenos Aires
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Destination: VZCZCXYZ0019

DE RUEHBU #0534/01 1262141
O 062141Z MAY 09



E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/06/2029


Classified By: CDA Tom Kelly for reasons 1.4 (b) & (d).

1. (C) Summary: Recent moves by the Government of Argentina
(GoA) undermine the independence and efficacy of Argentine
agencies with jurisdiction over corruption cases. In early
March, Manuel Garrido, Argentina's chief prosecutor for
corrupton cases resigned, claiming frustration over
perceived limitations placed on his authorities by Prosecutor
General Esteban Righi. From late 2008 through February 2009,
the head of the National Auditor General's Office (AGN),
Leandro Despouy, spoke out publicly against what he, the
press and the opposition characterized as GoA attempts to
limit his purview. Both Garrido and Despouy have
investigated and publicly reported findings implicating
irregularities by Kirchner officials and allies. President
Kirchner appointed a family friend, Julio Vitobello, to head
the Anticorruption Office (OA) and another ally, Carlos
Pacios, to replace Vitobello in the National Comptroller,s
Office (SIGEN). In the Kirchners' home province of Santa
Cruz, a Kirchner niece is in charge of the "investigation"
into questionable land deals involving the Kirchners and
their circle. These developments point to a weak and
emasculated institutional framework in Argentina's
intermittent attempts to combat public corruption. End


2. (U) In mid-March, Argentina's top District Attorney in the
National Prosecutor's Office for Administrative
Investigations (FIA), Manuel Garrido, resigned from the FIA
after five years as its head. Garrido, opposition
politicians, respected NGOs, local press, and blogs
criticized the GoA's treatment of Garrido and characterized
the forced resignation as a loss in Argentina's fight against
corruption. Garrido claimed his resignation stemmed from
Prosecutor General Esteban Righi's promulgation of Resolution
147/08 in early November 2008, which reduced the FIA's
powers. The FIA was created by law to investigate potential
criminal activity of national public officials. Righi's
resolution establishes that the FIA would no longer have a
direct role in cases that did not initiate with a criminal
complaint by the FIA, reflecting a restrictive interpretation
of the FIA's legal authorities and effectively constricting
Garrido's ability to intervene in cases against public

3. (U) Garrido sharply criticized Righi's measure, warning
that the FIA would cease to exist as an independent and
specialized entity to prosecute crimes committed by public
officials and requesting Congressional action. Garrido
further suggested that the lack of a specialized, independent
body investigating public corruption went against Argentina's
duties as a signatory to the United Nations Convention
Against Corruption. Righi retorted that Garrido should
abstain from "self-promoting campaigns" regarding his role in
the fight against corruption.

4. (SBU) Garrido had distinguished himself as the prosecutor
who filed or advanced the most high-level corruption cases
implicating administration officials. Garrido had an
important role in the following cases: 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 Miceli; the alleged illicit
enrichment of Nestor 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 GOA advertising by Press
Secretary Enrique Albistur; train repairs by Transport
Secretary Ricardo Jaime; and the decision process for
granting highway concessions. Press reports noted, however,
that although Garrido had launched over a hundred
investigations in five years (compared to four investigations
in nine years by his predecessor), he had not obtained any
convictions during his tenure.


5. (U) In announcing his resignation, Garrido complained he
had suffered "infinite difficulties, setbacks, and trip-ups
and inexpressible episodes of resistance, administrative and
structural deficiencies." Garrido told newspaper "La Nacion"

he was convinced that Argentina offered impunity to
corruption. His resignation letter was reportedly a long
attack on Righi's resolution and the harm it produced to the
authorities of the FIA and to anticorruption efforts in
general. In his conclusion, Garrido asserted that, while
corruption is common to all countries, Argentine corruption
regrettably sets itself apart in its impunity and the lack of
commitment to confront it.

6. (U) From the opposition, Radical Party (UCR) Senate leader
Ernesto Sanz, the vice president of the Council of
Magistrates, sought to call attention to Garrido's
resignation. UCR National Deputy and bloc leader Oscar Aguad
claimed Garrido was mistreated and cornered by the
administration for being one of the few with the courage to
challenge its power. Civic Coalition National Deputy and
bloc leader Adrian Perez also joined the criticism,
explaining the resignation as a consequence of the
administration,s deliberate policies to weaken and destroy
the country,s institutions of control. Center-right PRO
National Deputy Esteban Bullrich accused the administration
of obstructing corruption investigations.

7. (U) Laura Alonso and Delia Rubio, of the NGO Citizen Power
(Poder Ciudadano), said the resignation was a setback in the
fight against corruption. Similarly, the Center for the
Investigation and Prevention of Economic Criminality (CIPCE)
denounced Garrido's resignation as an additional indicator of
Righi's unwillingness to investigate economic crimes. CIPCE
claimed "the judicial system systematically fails in its
mission to clarify the penal responsibility of the
businesspeople and officials involved in such acts. And,
clearly, the Ministry of Public Prosecution has the primary
responsibility for this situation."


8. (U) Righi denied all of the accusations against him and
said he would have preferred for Garrido to remain in his
position. At the same time, Righi accused Garrido of
damaging the reputation of the Prosecutor General's office by
filing highly publicized but poorly documented, premature
criminal complaints. Righi said he had not limited Garrido's


9. (U) Before he left, Garrido filed several more criminal
complaints implicating GOA officials. One accuses Claudio
Uberti, the former toll road regulator who was fired in the
"Valijagate" scandal, and Jorge Simeonoff in the Planning
Ministry of administrative irregularities and presumed
collusion with the highway construction firm Coviares in
contract negotiations. The other two cases accuse the
Executive Branch of irregularities in the management of
campaign financing -- specifically regarding the broadcasting
of political events on a private cable network using public
funds -- and presumed irregularities and in another highway
concession with the firm Caminos del Valle SA. Garrido
presented the campaign finance complaint to the National
Electoral Chamber. Garrido also filed a criminal complaint
alleging overpricing in an electricity cabling project run by
Electroingenieria, a company with close ties to the Kirchner


10. (SBU) The Argentine National Accounting Office (AGN) is
at the center of a second set of debates about independent
voices in the Argentine government structure. The press gave
prominent coverage to a shouting match at a public meeting in
February of the AGN's governing board. The Congress set up
the AGN to be headed by someone, currently Leandro Despouy,
named by the opposition to audit the GOA. At the February
meeting, Despouy thwarted efforts by Kirchner allies to limit
his authority in setting the agenda for the AGN and impede
publication of the agency's reports. Despouy noted that not
a single AGN report had been refuted in seven years, but
warned the AGN was at risk of losing its credibility as had,
he claimed, the GOA's controversial statistics agency
(INDEC). He identified the AGN report on overpricing in a
public works project awarded to Electroingenieria as the
leading factor prompting the GOA's move against him. The
report was posted to the AGN website on December 3, 2008,
after being approved and signed by all seven General Auditors
in Resolution 199/08-AGN and being submitted to Congress, but
it was removed in January when the GOA denied its existence

and content. On February 10, "Clarin" published an editorial
piece by Despouy in which he defended the AGN's record and
called attention to the administration's attack on
transparency as represented by its attempt to limit the
publication of AGN reports. The AGN report on
Electroingenieria was reposted online and remained available
as of early May 2009.

--------------------------------------------- ----------

11. (SBU) President Kirchner in January transferred Julio
Vitobello, head of the National Comptroller's Office (SIGEN),
to take over as head of the Anti-Corruption Office (OA) in
place of Abel Fleitas Ortiz de Rozas, who died in December.
The OA falls under the Ministry of Justice and has
jurisdiction to investigate any use of state funds.
Vitobello was brought into the Kirchner administration by
former Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernandez. From 2000 to 2003 he
served in the Buenos Aires city legislature for the Peronist
Party (PJ) and from 1993 to 1997 he served as chief of staff
to the Interior Secretary. "La Nacion" said Vitobello had
opened the lowest number of investigations ever during his
2008 tenure at the head of SIGEN, part of a chorus of
accusations that Vitobello as head of the OA would not
fulfill his mandate to investigate official corruption
proactively and effectively. Vitobello is reported to be
close to the Kirchners and joins in weekend soccer games
organized by former president Nestor Kirchner at the Olivos
presidential residence. Vitobello was replaced in SIGEN by
the former adjunct Comptroller General, Carlos Pacios,
another official reported to be close to the Kirchners and
former Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernandez.


12. (U) In the Kirchners' home province of Santa Cruz, the
investigation of a case against members of the administration
and thir allies in the business sector remains stalled. The
case focuses on the preferential sale of large properties to
approximately 50 top administration officials, including the
Kirchners, and pro-administration businesspeople during the
final years of the tenure of Nestor Mendez, the mayor of El
Calafate from 1995 to 2007. The investigation is in the
hands of prosecutor Natalia Mercado, who is the daughter of
Minister of Social Development Alicia Kirchner and niece of
former president Nestor Kirchner. The case began with a
formal complaint filed by local UCR leader and former mayoral
candidate Alvaro de Lamadrid and it focuses on the purchase
of municipal land by the Kirchners and close associates,
including Rudy Ulloa, Lazaro Baez, Carlos Sancho, Fulvio
Madaro, Natalia Mercado herself, Romina Mercado, Julio Ciurca
and Ricardo Etchegaray. Nestor Kirchner reportedly re-sold
two hectares (20,000 square meters) to a Chilean investment
group for US$2 million -- forty times what he paid after less
than two years. Lamadrid also alleges that the municipality
promotes a public works policy designed to benefit these VIP
landowners. Mendez is at the center of the case, accused of
abuse of authority and influence trafficking. Now a
provincial congressional deputy for the Victory Front (FPV)
party, Mendez insists the sales were legit.


13. (C) Argentina's corruption scandals frequently make a big
splash at the outset, only to dissipate into oblivion due to
the languid pace of the "investigations" and the endless
juridical ping-pong to which they are submitted. According
to the local NGO Center for the Study and Prevention of
Economic Crimes, corruption cases in Argentina took 14 years,
on average, to be resolved and only 15 out of 750 cases tried
resulted in convictions (see also Ref B). At the FIA,
Garrido kept up a frenetic level of activity in launching
over 100 investigations, but he did not obtain a single
conviction in over five years. At the AGN, Despouy gets high
marks for maintaining high standards of integrity, but
questions persist as to the AGN's efficacy and impact. At
the OA, Vitobello's cozy chumminess with the Kirchners
suggests a conflict of interest, as does the court decision
in Santa Cruz to have the Kirchners' niece investigate
questionable land deals. Glaring weaknesses in key
components of Argentina's anti-corruption architecture point
to an emasculated institutional framework incapable of
providing needed checks and balances. For these and other
reasons, Transparency International again named Argentina in
mid-April among nine countries in the region that failed to
implement established anticorruption practices.

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