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Category: Outstanding Investigative Reporting

Author: Diego Cabot (Argentina)

“The Notebooks of Corruption”

Original reporting (Spanish)

 

The bribe notebooks: there are 12 people in custody and more raids are in preparation

La Nación - August 1, 2018

English translation

After months of investigation, authorities arrested ex members of the Kirchner administration and businesspeople, under a legal case that could become an Argentine Lava Jato. Some of the
closest collaborators during the years of the administration of Nestor Kirchner and of his exminister of Planning, Julio De Vido, have been brought before the courts, accused of being part of an illegal association, dedicated, at least over 10 years, to collect bags full of money handed over by contractors of public works all over Buenos Aires.

Senator and ex-president Cristina Kirchner was ordered to attend an inquest hearing on August 13. The ex-minister De Vido; the ex-General Secretary of the Presidency and ex-director of the Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI is the acronym in Spanish), Oscar Parrilli; the ex-Cabinet Chief, Juan Manuel Abal Medina; and the ex-private secretary of ex-minister De Vido, José María Olazagasti, were also summoned by the court. As were the businessman Rudy Ulloa Igor and industrialist Juan Lascurain. Also summoned by the court was the ex-judge Norberto Oyarbide, who held meetings with people involved in the bribe scheme, according to notes taken over a ten year period by Oscar Centeno, ex-employee of the Ministry of Planning. Centeno worked as a chauffeur for Roberto Baratta, ex-under-secretary of Coordination and Management in the Ministry of Planning, and De Vido’s right hand man. Both were arrested. Before dawn today, at 4:30 a.m., several police vehicles were at the door of Mr. Baratta’s home in the Belgrano neighborhood of Buenos Aires. Meanwhile, there was a wave of arrests and police raids in the city. Practically all the closest collaborators of the ex-minister of Planning were handed over to the courts.

{Photo caption: Roberto Baratta, Julio de Vido’s ex right hand man, arrested. Source: La Nación – Ricardo Pristupluk}

The case, that is being investigated by judge Claudio Bonadío and public prosecutor Carlos Stornelli, involves ex-presidents Néstor and Cristina Kirchner, ex-minister De Vido and most of the senior officials closest to him, but also many of the most important building and energy companies in the country, that over many years gave millions of dollars in cash to the exunder- secretary of Coordination and Management of the Federal Ministry of Planning. According to the case file, all that was collected went to the Kirchner’s private home, at the corner of Juncal and Uruguay streets in Buenos Aires; the official presidential residence, known as the Olivos Country House (Quinta de Olivos); or the Cabinet Chief’s office.

Ex official / public servant Businessman
Carlos Wagner
Ex-president of Argentine Constructors Chamber and owner of the Esuc Company

Roberto Baratta
Ex-under-secretary of Coordination and Management Control
As ex-minister Julio De Vido’s right-hand man, he followed the money wherever it went. He met with businessman to collect payments.

Javier Sánchez Caballero
EX CEO of IECSA
The Company belongs to Ángelo Calcaterra, President Mauricio Macri’s cousin.

Gerardo Ferreyra
Vice-President of Electroingeniería
He is a minority stock holder of Electroingeniería, a small company until 2003, when under the Kirchner administration it became one of the big players in public works.

Armando Roberto Loson
President of the Albanesi Group for 40 years
He also has a winery and is in the commercial airline business with two airplanes.

Hernán Camilo Gómez
Worked at the Ministry of Planning
He was a consultant for the Ministry and one of the main actors in the scheme for collecting bribes.

Ezequiel García
Ex director of Renewable Energy
He worked in the orbit of the Ministry of Planning from March 2008 to November 2012

Juan Carlos de Goycoechea
Ex-President of Isolux for Latin America
He held meetings with people from the Ministry of Planning that collected bribes

Enrique Llorens
Ex-secretary of Coordination and Control of the Ministry of Planning

Walter Fagyas
Ex-President of Enarsa
He was one of the people present in the meetings with the Ministry of Planning

Nelson Lazarte
Mr. Baratta’s ex-secretary
He was an important factor in the bribe collection scheme

Carlos Mundín
President of the BTU engineering company
He met directly with people from the Ministry of Planning in charge of collecting bribes

Hugo Martín Larraburu
Ex Technical Coordinator of the Cabinet Chief’s office
He worked there under Abal Medina

Claudio Javier Glazman
Director of Sociedad Latinoamericana Inversiones

Jorge Guillermo Neira
Vice-President of Electroingeniería
The company that grew under the Kirchner administration
He was Ferreyra’s second in command

Rafael Llorens, ex-secretary of Coordination and Control of the ministry of Planning; Walter Fagyas, ex-director of Energía Argentina SA (Enarsa); Nelson Lazarte, ex-employee in De Vido’s office; and Hugo Martín Larraburu, ex-employee in the Cabinet Chief’s office, had already been arrested.

But the arrests did not end there. Powerful businessman with links to public works and energy were also arrested. Gerardo Ferreyra and Luis Neyra of Electroingeniería, and Javier Sánchez Caballero, of ex-Iecsa, were also taken into custody before dawn. Six other businessmen and officials, some of them in the interior of the country, will be arrested.

It all started with an investigation by three journalists of La Nación –Diego Cabot, Candela Ini, and Santiago Nasra- that the Court developed further starting in April, checking thousands of notes taken by the chauffer, Baratta, over the course of the 10 years he worked for the Ministry of Planning. Names, sums, addresses, dates, places, and domains involved in the operation were compiled by the journalists: these are detailed in eight notebooks, copies of which were handed over by the team to public prosecutor Stornelli.

Yesterday afternoon, Bonadío ordered the arrest of Oscar Centeno, Baratta’s ex-chauffer and author of the notes contained in the notebooks, the existence of which was ignored by the men that in the past, when they were government officials, were driven to collect the dollars. His precise and detailed notes generated a record with precisions about the operations that were unknown up to now.

According to estimates by the public prosecutor’s office, 160 million dollars were collected only considering the money that came by way of the Toyota Corolla driven by Centeno, the arrested ex-chauffer, though the investigators agree that the sum could have been 50% higher, considering notes where no specific amounts are mentioned.

The notebooks include thousands of details that were validated by the court investigators. The money was taken in cash to two destinations while Néstor Kirchner was alive: the Olivos Country House and family apartment, where Senator Kirchner lives now when she is in the City of Buenos Aires.

After Nestor Kirchner’s death, Centeno interrupted his notes. He restarted them in 2013, tracking routes. Then operations changed: They started using cars from the Cabinet Chief’s office. All the cars that transported the money belong or belonged then to the Cabinet Chief’s office or to automobile companies that gave them to the government for use of the Presidency. The money collected apparently was delivered directly to the Pink House (Casa Rosada).

 

The story behind the story of the bribe notebooks

Original reporting (Spanish)

Diego Cabot – La Nación – August 2, 2018

January 8 was a suffocating day in Buenos Aires. At 1:38 p.m., when a box containing the notebooks with one of the most detailed descriptions of a corruption scheme known to date came to my hands, the temperature was unbearable.

When I opened it, I found a notepad, six spiral notebooks and a blue hard-cover notebook, that could have belonged to some nostalgic that decided to keep his old high-school notes. Also receipts from a leather-store from the commercial district of Once, proof of the purchase of bags.

Those were not the only surprise. Along with the notebooks I found videos and a few not very clear photos. All those pieces showed the path of the bribes that started with instructions from Néstor Kirchner, continued with the routes of Julio De Vido’s aids that brought them to state contractor companies to collect bags full of millions of dollars of dirty money, which ended up in the Olivos Country House, the Cabinet Chief’s office or the family apartment of the expresidents at the corner of Juncal and Uruguay.

The chauffer of the car, silent witness of what transpired in his Toyota Corolla, in which he drove Roberto Baratta for at least ten years, took notes of everything he could hear or see, with the precision of a goldsmith. With each detail he tried to give veracity to his account. He did not miss even some number he saw for a moment, he jotted down addresses, the names, the amounts, and described the physical appearance of people he did not know. He even registered the weight of the bags or the suitcases with money.

The magnitude of what I had led me to make a decision: after working alone briefly, I invited to students of the Master in Journalism of the Di Tella University (UTDT) and La Nación. Candela Ini and Santiago Nasra came to work with one premise: we would structure the information and then start working on the journalistic story. We did not establish any deadline to start telling the story. Only a few persons knew of the existence of those notebooks and the people arrested or investigated, who always ignored the existence of this proof, were not among them. Then came long hours in the night, before dawn, ordering the registers, with long debates, surprised over the names that appeared, and astonished by the impunity with which those officials and businesspeople had acted and still did.

We agreed to work silently and not publish anything. Those were nights of typing, obtaining information and drinking coffee, in which many of the people now arrested and that we did not know became familiar to us.

We listed names, addresses, government posts, companies, amounts and ownership of cars. We checked each one and came to several conclusions. All silently. Thus we created a powerful data base with details of each movement registered in the ten years of notes, which we wanted to share online at some point.

The notes in the notebooks led us to the garages where the bags were exchanged and we were able to determine how much dollars weigh, “the fresh”. We also visited rooms in hotels named by the chauffer, Baratta, we climbed to the top of powerful towers in Puerto Madero (one of the more exclusive districts of Buenos Aires), walked, hand in hand with corruption, out on the balconies on the thirty-something floors from where everything looks very little. We found people we knew, strolled by suspicious façades, photographed houses, and, finally began to confront information with several of the people in the notebooks.

One day I met a businessman in the same café where he did business with the people in the government in those days and I saw how his face transformed when I gave him data, dates, and names. The poker face of somebody used to applauding at official ceremonies came undone that noon. Another time somebody said with impunity: “They have nothing, I will never get caught”. This is what an old businessman, experienced in delving with dirty money, said to his press officer when I told him we had registers of when and where he had paid bribes. Today he is trying to be released on bail.

At that point in the investigation we began consulting with journalists whose professional careers I respect. We had come far and had to make a decision. One of the options analyzed was to present the information and the conclusions in an important story, with the risk of being exposed to the possibility that the chauffer deny his texts. The other was to write a fiction with the story of the people involved in the bribes, and lastly, try to understand the way business was conducted over many years between the State and many contractors. We chose this last option, which meant ceding a scoop and leaving in the hands of the courts the investigation we had conducted up to that point.

La Nación decided not to publish a single line until the courts acted. And that is what we did: we handed over our work and I offered my testimony.

On April 10 of this year, after five hours in the offices of one of the courts, the secretary of the public prosecutor looked at me and said: “I will bring you another coffee so you do not fall asleep” It was the third I drank in that small room seven feet by ten. He took a capsule and put it in a machine on one side of his desk full of papers. “Do not worry, it will not do you harm; it is decaf”, he said. There were two desks and hundreds of files on shelves, on the floor, in the corridors, everywhere. There was a window that looked out on the docks and that brought some fresh air into the room.

While the secretary –a bit cold in his manner but willing- typed, I imagined the consequences of that long deposition. There were several more months of silence, nothing published, when we speculated on how much time the judiciary process demanded. But the courts have much more powerful means for verifying the veracity or not of a document or hundreds of them, as in this case.

The chauffer was arrested the day before yesterday and yesterday we began to see the consequences of the investigation we began in the summer. Nobody imagined that this cautious witness had created enormous proof of the scheme of corruption in Argentina. He did it right in the face of the officials. But impunity blinds people, so much so that Mr. Baratta never imagined that this man, to whom he once gave as a gift an empty suitcase from which he had taken the 4 million dollars it had contained a few minutes before, was creating the most consistent proof of what had been his role in the Kirchner government.

 

The most brutal narrative of how corruption works in Argentina

Diego Cabot – La Nación – August 12, 2018

Original reporting (Spanish)

English translation

There was a moment of anxiety the day before yesterday in the afternoon in the Court Building at Comodoro Py Avenue (in the Retiro district near the docks and the River Plate in Buenos Aires). “We already know that, it does not give us anything new”. I will leave you alone to speak what you need. I will see you in an hour”, said the public prosecutor, Carlos Stornelli. Carlos Wagner, ex-president of the Construction Chamber understood he would remain in jail. An hour later he began the most brutal narrative of corruption in Argentina. “I graduated as an engineer 52 years ago and have worked in my profession to this day. In 1966 I started working at Esuco. In the projects we have in progress, by ourselves or with other companies, there are 3500 people working”. Those were his first words.

And then, decidedly, without handcuffs and in the custody of the Federal Penitentiary Service that waited for him outside, Wagner, an important actor in the halls of power during the Kirchner era, began his confession: “Everybody knew I was Julio De Vido’s friend. In 2004 the architect called me to his office and told me that on orders from the president [Nestor Kirchner] he had to personally guarantee the success according to the interests of the government in competitive tenders for public works from that moment, fundamentally in road projects, which command the largest amounts of money and are the most significant. Because public works –he told me- would be one of the methods of collecting money for political needs”. Thus Wagner started to obtain his release.

At the end of the 1990s’ Esuco started to work in the province of Santa Cruz in public projects. One of the first contracts was for building the airport at El Calafate. De Vido, who had immigrated to Santa Cruz as an employee of Entel (then the state phone company), was already an official in the provincial government. “I met the architect and (then governor of Santa Cruz Néstor) Kirchner in successive visits they paid to the works”, he explained as to the origins of the relation that ended with him in jail.

Not too long after that the governor became president and the architect his main minister. “I had been thirty years in the Construction Chamber. At the time I was third vice president” Wagner narrated.

A new leader was to be elected at the time in the business association. In 2004 came the proposal from De Vido: Kirchner needed him in a key post to generate flows of dirty money back to officials. “Public works would be one of the methods of collecting money for politics. For example, once a tender for some project was called, the interested parties paid the legal fee to enter the competitive bid and met in different places to determine the winner” the businessman told the prosecutor.

According to Wagner, one of the meeting places was in the third floor of the building at 736 of Venezuela Street, headquarters of the Chamber of Road Building Companies. And then he went straight to the point. Among those that went to that place where projects and millions were distributed, the constructor mentioned Perales Aguiar, Vial Agro, Biancalani, Losi, Fontana Micastro, Marcalba, Iecsa, Chediack, Equimac, Coarco, Cartellone, and Vialco. “I promise to name more companies as I remember them” he added.

Then the story came to the core of the corruption scheme. “The companies met in preestablished places and determined who the winner of the bid would be according to their interest in the project and how much work they had. Once the project had been awarded to a company, they had to pay what had been agreed for political expenses, for political needs, what had been established beforehand” he clarified.

But the details kept coming. Wagner said “the percentage of the financial advance was 10 to 20 percent of the project: once taxes were deducted, they had to pay what was left of the financial advance as a kickback”. The constructor was lapidary.

The scheme described by the owner of Esuco also included what happened if the project did not include advances. “Equivalent amounts were established and they were deducted from the first three payments by the state. I want to say my company was not exempted from this mechanism”, he pointed out as if there were any doubt that he paid bribes too.

Then he came to the methodology of the payments. Just like all the other “arrepentidos” (the repentants, willing to collaborate with the investigation in exchange for their freedom), the expresident of the Construction Chamber said the money was given to one of the collectors. “Roberto Baratta established who was going to collect; and so did the engineer [José] López. Both decided what person would collect the money and where. That remained the same over time, it was always the same” he told the prosecutor.

But Wagner, the key player placed there by Kirchner and De Vido, was not limited to being the host of the meetings where projects were handed out. He then said: “My function was to guarantee that whoever won the bid paid. If the contractor did not comply, I was made responsible and had difficulties with the certificates my company was supposed to get paid by the government. And the company that didn’t comply also had difficulties getting paid (sic)”.

Along with being in charge of the interests of the Kirchners in the construction industry, Wagner also got several public works projects. “In the case of the public works assigned to my company they said when they would come for the money and where. López and Baratta were always who we spoke with. They didn’t care which company won [money], only that they did the job well and paid the money they were supposed to. Baratta generally sent [Nélson] Lazarte to collect the money. I don’t remember who José López sent. De Vido explained the system of kickbacks in that meeting I told you about. I asked what they pretended and he established the amounts”, said the constructor, one of the businesspeople pampered by the ex-president Cristina Kirchner.

The kickback to the officials was not only the advance to begin the projects. According to Wagner’s confession, that was under oath to tell the truth, for each payment after that they had to give some money back. “They demanded the same percentage of kickback on additionals and modifications of the projects”.

When Esuco was the “winner” of the bid, Wagner said he paid at places like the Café La Puerto Rico, on the 400 block of Alsina Street, a block from the Casa Rosada; at the NH Hotel, two blocks from 50 Balcarce (the address of the casa Rosada), or at some parking lot. “In public places. Sometimes they came to 151 San José Street [the headquarters of the company], but mostly they collected in other places”, he confessed.

He added that payments were generally in pesos, while there were foreign exchange restrictions. Before that, in dollars. According to the manual of corruption in public works, narrated by one of the main actors of those last years, the money was tied up in packages.

“A person in my trust made them. If they collected in mi company headquarters I gave them personally to the collector and if the meeting place was outside the company, I sent a representative, for example, Mauro Guatti. The amount of money, that is to say the financial advance of the project that was to be paid, was given to the collector in one, two or three payments”, he explained.

While the money paid as an advance went to the pockets of the officials, work in the project began with a minimal percentage. Wagner said “the VAT that was retained and that had to be paid to AFIP (the tax authorities) at 30 and 60 days, was used to start work”. That is to say, for every 100 pesos plus VAT (121 pesos) paid by the state to employ workers and buy supplies, 100 went back through the Baratta, De Vido, and Kirchner line, and only 21 went to the
project. And a debt with the tax authority remained”.

There was more detail to the most corrupt scheme ever described in court. “Who was the money for?” they asked him. “I am under the impression that the internal system determined that once the money was collected, it went up. That is what Baratta and López said. It was money for above”, he answered.

Wagner signed the statement and was free. In a few sheets he left the most detailed narrative of the “public works club” that made him rich, but also landed him in jail.



“The public works club”: the obscene show of corruption

Original reporting (Spanish)

August 19, 2018

English translation

The testimonies accumulated in recent days in court allow us to reconstruct in detail how the Kirchner system operated, having businesspeople as their counterpart Argentina has seen in these last 20 days the demise of the most impressive structure of power, millions, indoctrination, and favors, ever known. The popular saying is that the bigger they are the louder the noise when they fall. Possibly that is why the bursting of that bell of silence and complicity that lasted more than a decade resounds so strongly.

The Federal Ministry of Planning, which now has practically all its most prominent officials in jail, was the most efficient machine for the political construction of Kirchnerism. Through the hands of the now multi-charged Julio de Vido from 2003 to 2015 passed some 740.560 million pesos. But if we take the exchange rate of the last day of each year, that office spent 126.000 million dollars, about 27,6 million dollars a day, including Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays.

According to data from the Argentine Budget Society (Asociación Argetina de Presupuesto, ASAP), compiled from the consolidated accounts of the Ministry of Economy, De Vido always had an increasing budget that was only interrupted in 2012 and after the rail tragedy in Once (when a train crashed into the station, killing 50 passengers and wounding hundreds), when he lost the secretary of Transport, that went to the ministry of the Interior.

The first big cash box was public works. Everybody knew, but those millions that were distributed had a sedative effect for all. The collectors accumulated millions; the politicians inaugurated public works; and the the businessmen smiled behind mountains of false invoices and double accounting. Now all is out in the open.

Several businessmen that confessed in the courts at Comodoro Py produced a millimetric crack in the crystal bell that kept the silence. Angelo Calcaterra, the cousin of the president, ex owner of Iecsa, and Juan Carlos Goycoechea, one time number one of Isolux, said they paid kickbacks. They were the first constructors to recognize their crime. But once the dyke breaks, the pressure of the water does the rest. A few days later, Carlos Wagner, ex-president of the Construction Chamber, disclosed everything.

“Everybody knew I was De Vido’s friend. In 2004 the architect called me to his office and told me that on orders from the president [Nestor Kirchner] he had to personally guarantee the success according to the interests of the government in competitive tenders for public works from that moment, fundamentally in road projects, which command the largest amounts of money and are the most significant. Because public works –he told me- would be one of the methods of collecting money for political needs”.

What followed was almost pornographic. Now we know the projects were assigned in an office on the third floor of 736 Venezuela Street, then the headquarters of the Chamber of Road Building Companies. The constructors went there and took what was assigned to them. José López or Julio De Vido, depending on the area, continued with the case. With a simulated bid, a winner was established. Then the resolutions or decrees awarding projects were approved, and the money started to flow. Those processes rarely were questioned or observed.

What came after that was the advancement, between 10 and 20 percent of the project, paid with VAT. Wagner explains very clear and simply. Everything went back to the officials, the payment of taxes was differed and with that percentage the work began. As an example. If a project cost 100 pesos, an advance of 20 pesos was agreed and it was paid with VAT, which comes to 24.20 pesos. The project should have started with those 24.20, but it started slower, with only 4.20. The rest went to the bags. This generated an enormous fraud against the state. And not only because of excessive costs, but because of the difficulty of finishing a project with high inflation. “They kept moving the goal and for each extra payment we had to give them another 20 percent”, said a businessman that went to Comodoro Py these last days. The theory of contributions for the political campaign fell.

Luis Betnaza, one of the most important executives at Techint, confessed he also paid through this collecting mechanism. They prefer to speak of extortion and not bribes. But the truth is another investigative line opened up: Venezuela. Claudio Uberti and José María Olazagasti were arrested because of that. The first confessed; the second is silent and in jail.

Uberti, angry with his old chiefs, said his job, apart from “controlling” companies with highway concessions, was to fetch a bag with 150.000 dollars from each concessionary and take it to the Kirchners. There were eight corridors. So if Uberti did his job right, between 2003 and 2007 he handed Kirchner 1.2 million dollars a month and in his years in office transported a little more than half a ton of dollars, specifically 576 kilos.

The new line of investigation Uberti opened up inevitably leads to the highway concessionaries. Several of them are construction companies that created consortiums and already were in the courts in Comodoro Py. It does not seem very possible that they will be able to maintain they were contributing to the political campaign.

The contributions of some constructors also led to Ernesto Clarens, owner of Invernes, the finance company in charge of financial operations. His testimony was under secret of the court, but the case this will week will no doubt center on “black” dollars and money with no controls. The people in the judiciary do not think this financier could have generated such an amount of “black” money. They consider some first level financial companies could be involved in operations.

Other constructors suffered the devaluation of what they had to say. They said what their colleagues already told the prosecutor –that they paid bribes to Roberto Baratta- but their words no longer had any value. Aldo Roggio (Metrovías) and Gabriel Romero (Ferrovías) had to speak of the transport sector. Roggio said he paid 5% of the subsidies he received from the state to the Transport Secretary. Romero, along with recognizing he paid some of these officials, confessed he paid for a decree.

The day before yesterday was again a Friday of Fury. José López, cuddled by many governors in the 12 years of Kirchnerism, also said he was ready to collaborate with the court. López is threatening to destroy a large swath of politics. They say he was very nervous and reticent when he arrived. But a few hours later, and after they conceded him a different place of detention, he was happy. Now he is in detention but far from the prison. He is easy, the opposite of a large segment of the politicians that benefited from his favors over the years.



Secret stories, prisoners, and confessors: frantic hours in the first days of the case

Diego Cabot – September 24, 2018

Original reporting (Spanish)

English translation

[On August 1st, economic and political power was in shock due to the magnitude of the revelations; those were dramatic and unprecedented moments in the federal courts. Photo La Nación/ Ricardo Pristupluk]

On July 31, several businessmen traded calls. “Do you know anything?” There were comments of an important case in the courts. Two of them consulted with their lawyers. Nobody knew anything. Meanwhile, in the judiciary, some judges and public prosecutors were asked their opinion as to how the law for repentants works and what its scope is. “I was consulted but did not know why” public prosecutor Carlos Rívolo, one of those now involved in the notebook case, confessed to a confidant.

In the early hours of August 1st, one of the lawyers of a businessman began calling a political operative. He answered after the third call. “My client has been arrested. What is this?” Ángelo Calcaterra, President Mauricio Macri’s cousin, woke up early. A phone call alerted him that number two of what had been his construction company, Iecsa, Javier Sánchez Caballero, had also been taken by the police and was in custody.

At the home of Juan Manuel Abal Medina everyone was incredulous. The ex- Cabinet Chief knew all the processes that could have him involved. “I had the map of the courts in my head, but that surprised me to the point of disbelief” he confessed in an apartment in San Telmo (a district close to Casa Rosada) to a couple of people, one of them of his utmost trust. There was a moment when he though it was a mistake, that the Hugo Larraburu arrested was not his loyal collaborator. He always called him Martin. But he finally read it: his complete name is Hugo Martin.

Those were the first minutes of the bribe notebooks case, the investigation La Nación gave over to the courts in April. “How many people know?”, was the question everybody was asking in the newsroom. Doing the numbers was not simple, but to arrest 16 people and carry out 36 raids, at least 200 people had to be informed.

Within the court building at Comodoro Py there was anxiety. During Tuesday afternoon, in the dispatches of public prosecutor Carlos Stornelli and Judge Claudio Bonadío, the imminence of proceedings led to more members of those offices in the fourth and fifth floors being aware of what was coming. Stornelli did not sleep. He stayed at home and received information from the court. At 6:52 Wednesday morning there were 11 arrested out of 16. At 7:01 La Nación changed the information on its digital site and surprised public opinion with details unknown until then. The most intense week in recent years began at Comodoro Py. Also in the main criminal lawyer offices, and, of course, in the business community. Everything revolved around the most secret case surrounding the interpretation of corruption in Argentina.

It was Wednesday. Criminal lawyers began trekking through the corridors of the federal courts building. “It is a show of Italian suits” crowed an actor of that vertex of power in reference to the lawyers’ clothes. Two of them confessed later that, though they specialize in business criminal law, they did not know where the detention centers were. “We never have our clients arrested” he admitted. It was their debut.

There were meetings on the fourth and fifth floor, while some that had not been arrested called their consultants to see what was coming. Events on Thursday determined to a great extend what came later. Oscar Centeno admitted to writing the notebooks and gave specific and precise details of what was in that log. He obtained his freedom and went to a place only few people know and no one reveals. The so called repentant law was starting to assert its importance.

The effect of that was not unnoticed by the lawyers. One of them said a few days ago: “It was a mirror. It meant freedom for your client. People in this profession know that. Everybody wants to be free”.

A cataract of confessions was in the making. Juan Carlos de Goycoechea was one of the people that were not at their homes when they went to arrest him. He found out in Esquel (a mountain resort town in Patagonia, in the south of Argentina), where he was on vacation. Javier Landaburu, a lawyer of the firm Landaburu, Feder & Rosental, was possibly who precipitated much of what happened after. He got in touch with his client and told him to come to Buenos Aires to turn himself in. De Goycoechea got in his car and drove directly to Comodoro Py. He did not want to go through an airport, fearing he would be arrested.

The importance of words

He appeared in the court building late on Friday. His lawyer went up and down, from the prosecutor to his client. At the time, also, formal notifications were being sent to most of the businessmen being summoned to give their statements on Monday, August 6.

De Goycoechea and Landaburu understood before anyone else the importance of words at the time, a glass of water in the desert. “If you want, we can sit with the prosecutor and see what happens” the lawyer said. And so it was. A few minutes later, at Stornelli’s office the first statement in which one of the people that had paid kickbacks recognized the facts took form. “There was never a meeting of the prosecutor or the judge with my client alone. I was always present. At intervals we went to another office to speak alone. The treatment was cordial”, said the lawyer, remembering an anecdote: Mate (the Argentine national drink) made the rounds that Friday afternoon at Comodoro Py.

Another partner of that lawyer firm was with Calcaterra. The constructor did not listen too much to advice: he was convinced that the second man in his company had to take responsibility. On Friday night, De Goycoechea signed his statement but made a decision: he preferred to remain in jail for the weekend to avoid the media.

The people arrested were in the Dangerous Drugs Division of the Federal Police. One of those held there defined it as “a sewer”. On Saturday, Sánchez Caballero was taken to another police facility, at Del Libertador Avenue and Cavia Street, in Palermo. It was a sign that something was happening. Hours earlier, Calcaterra had communicated his decision to Mauricio Macri. On Monday he would sign as a collaborating accused.

That weekend Techint was debating its strategy. At the home of one of the executives there were successive meetings, on several occasions including Paolo Rocca, the leader of the
organization. They called several lawyers to give their interpretation and define a strategy. They finally decided on the path chosen by a majority of the colleagues: to confess. In part at least.

On Monday, at 8, the inquests of Rodolfo Poblete; Manuel Santos Uribelarrea; Eduardo Peduto; and Alejandro Ivanissevich were supposed to start. But things were delayed. Calcaterra appeared at 7 in the morning. He gave his statement and his second at Iecsa was freed. The strategy that led to the light was clear; as was the one leading to darkness.

At that time the businessmen were being taken to Marco Paz prison; the ex-officials to the Ezeiza penitentiary. In the penal establishments they met with other inmates also detained over cases of corruption. At Marcos Paz, for example, none of them met with the most famous of the prisoners: Julio De Vido.

The key week

At noon on Monday, August 6, it was time for the inquests. Poblete was one of those who maintained the strategy agreed upon in the weekend meetings: he denied the facts. A few minutes later he was taken to Marcos Paz. Ivanissevich and Uribelarrea took another path: they confessed to the payments but said the amounts were less than what had been said. They were freed.

The lawyers of the businessmen started to clearly see there was no way out. To lie had a heavy cost and saying the whole truth also. Then the second pilgrimage of the lawyers began. One by one they made the prosecutors offers of information –Rívolo was already part of the teamfrom their clients. They came and went with proposals.

Also, the people in prison were putting pressure on the lawyers. At Marcos Paz there were very strict visiting hours –in the morning for the women and the afternoon for the men. So much so that the wife of one businessman went at the wrong time and had an exchange at the prison entrance: “My husband told me I could come at this time” the lady insisted. “Mam, I think you do not understand where your husband is” the guard answered. The detainees received visitors in a multi-purpose room with tables. All together, with not much intimacy.

There is a different air in that place. And you think differently. Several looked when one left. They knew that path: Comodoro Py, agreement to confess, homologation and freedom.

Several of the company number ones that had their second in command arrested followed the Calcaterra doctrine. More or less slow to incriminate themselves, Gerardo Fereyra, of Electroingeniería; Enrique Pescarmona; Gabriel Romero, of Emepa; and Jorge Balán, of Industrias Secco, exchanged criminal acts for the freedom of their employees. In the construction companies they understood the situation speedily: run to the courthouse as soon as you are mentioned. Several made their appearance with their half-truths. Patriots, they confessed to paying in pesos. Nobody can believe a constructor that never even publishes an ad offering a studio apartment in pesos would pay bribes in local currency.

It was the way other investigations were opened and the case progressed at an incredible speed, with ex officials that broke down and, in exchange for their confessions, asked not to remain in custody along with those that shared rented cars and millions. It was a little more than fifty days that changed the history of the fight against corruption in Argentina.