On June 15th, police in a town near Buenos Aires, Argentina received a call claiming that a man seemed to be throwing bags over the wall of an old monastery. Upon arrival, police found millions of dollars in jewels and cash in the monastery kitchen and in the trunk of a car. Upon speaking to the man, police discovered that he was Jose Lopez, the former Public Works secretary for former Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirschner; Mrs. Kirschner ruled the country until 2015, when she was defeated by current president Mauricio Macri.
Police also found a .22 caliber rifle in his vehicle, which he was originally arrested for; he is now being held for possible money-laundering. Upon arrest, he allegedly attempted to bribe police officers into releasing him; they refused.
The new Macri government, which has made its mission to crack down on political corruption, has already investigated several Kirschner administration officials for money laundering. Being able to charge Mr. Lopez is a large victory in the fight against corruption, seeing as Lopez was specifically named in the Panama Papers. Leaked in April 2016, the Panama Papers, a long list of leaked documents that show financial information for over 214,000 offshore entities, included (but was not limited to) celebrities, alleged drug kingpins, and politicians. Moreover, this marks a huge stride for the Macri government, the Minister of Public Works position is known for being prone to corruption.
Ms. Kirschner herself was recently indicted for manipulating Argentina’s Central Bank; Ms. Kirschner allegedly sold the Central Bank’s dollars below the market rate, benefitting rich investors but dealing a blow to the Central Bank itself. The arrest of one of her cabinet members could further aid corruption investigations against her, or at make it more difficult for her to seek re-election, as the much publicized event will most likely further dampen the memory of her tenure.
While President Macri characterized the event as “shameful”, he nonetheless claimed that “it’s good that we shed light on the types of practices that we want to eradicate in Argentina.”
Under the Kirschner government, which has historically been an enemy of the United States, Argentina went billions of dollars into debt to so called “vulture funds”. In addition, the country became a financial playground for friends of the Kirschners, who were given high-paying government contracts in under-the-table deals which paid money unofficially to the Kirschner government. Most recently, the Kirschners’ friend Lazaro Baez, who received government contracts under both Kirschner and her husband’s administration, has been accused of embezzling and laundering $5 million.
Jose Lopez is no exception, under his administration, billions of dollars devoted to public works were reportedly inefficiently managed, as Lopez’s corrupt administration likely did not give the contracts to the highest bidder; Mr. Lopez denies this, claiming in an April interview that he “never gave any benefits to any businessmen and all the projects were done through public tender and were awarded at the lowest cost.
Lopez’s arrest is just one example of the seeming changing tides of Argentine politics. What has long been a country riddled by corruption seems to have taken the opposite course. Despite this, President Macri was recently implicated in the Panama Papers over ties to the Bahamas-based company Fleg Trading; Mr. Macri denies that he made any money from the company; it is yet to be determined what, if any, his connection was to the company. If Mr. Macri is as genuine as he claims, the change in regimes towards one that favors anti-corruption crackdowns goes to show that over time, even the strongest of corrupt regimes can fail.