December 10, 2013
A bribery blast from the past
The call by a prosecutor to sentence former president Fernando de la Rúa to six years in prison for his alleged part in the bribing of Peronist senators to have the labour reform bill approved in 2000 might sound like small change for committing such an evil deed. But the news here is that a former president, once again like Carlos Menem when convicted for gun running, is facing a court investigation and could serve time for wrongdoing. This old scandal has been half-forgotten by public opinion, because it was overshadowed by the financial meltdown of 2001, but it was the bribery allegations that prompted the resignation of then vice-president Carlos “Chacho” álvarez in disgust at the time. álvarez, who was the leader of the centre-left Frepaso party, effectively brought to an end the Alliance coalition government headed by De la Rúa, a Radical. The specifics of the defunct Radical-Frepaso Alliance have also been forgotten, but in De la Rúa’s Cabinet the Labour Ministry went to a Frepaso man: Alberto Flamarique. The prosecutor’s decision on Thursday to call for Flamarique’s acquittal could raise a few eyebrows because the then labour minister was the official quoted by teamster Hugo Moyano as bragging at the time that he had the funds of “a debit card” to deal with any resistance from the Peronist caucus in the Senate.
Flamarique could well be off the hook even when the impression 13 years ago was that he was named presidential chief-of-staff by De la Rúa, once that he was out of the labour ministry, for protection. The prosecutor has come to the conclusion that there was no way that the SIDE state-intelligence service could have secretly earmarked 4.3 million pesos in bribe money (equal to the same amount of dollars at the time) without De la Rúa knowing what was going on.
De la Rúa has claimed innocence and he will no doubt continue to do so until a ruling is handed down. But this case has a whistleblower, the former Senate official Mario Pontaquarto, who has said in court that he was in on the meetings where the Radical bigwigs offered Peronist senators money to vote in favour of the bill. De la Rúa’s personal political nightmare was the product of a weak political position partly due to the fact that he did not control the Senate. The actors of this sad saga have climbed off the main political stage a long time ago. But the case itself should not be forgotten if former officials are found guilty.