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April 18, 2014
Sunday, December 15, 2013

Beyond Campagnoli

If the suspended prosecutor José María Campagnoli has acquired an almost overnight celebrity status as the alleged victim of a Kirchnerite vendetta, those enthusiastically springing to his defence can be excused their ignorance because they lack any basis for comparison — cases of such sanctions against judges or prosecutors are so rare that when it does happen, it always seems arbitrary. And far more so in such a high-profile and politically loaded case as probing the Kirchners’ friend Lázaro Báez whose alleged money-laundering became such a huge media buzz last April (just before the 18A saucepan-bashing and while the government’s judicial reform package was being passed by the Senate, interestingly enough). Perish the thought that Campagnoli’s suspension could be anything but political, would be many people’s natural reaction — especially looking at some of the far more blatant icons of corruption remaining undisturbed on their benches.

Political reactions thus predominate with hardly anybody bothering to read the legal fine print actually prompting the suspension. And indeed the high profile of the Lázaro Báez case seems to have been decisive here but not so much from bids to hush it as a catalyst motivating Campagnoli to allegedly muscle in on a case which does not belong to him, skipping rank and, according the prosecution, bending the rules to take over virtually the day after the television exposé. Putting Campagnoli in his place may not favour the government, as generally assumed. If the federal jurisdiction of this case is to be respected (Campagnoli is a strictly local prosecutor for the Saavedra/Núñez neighbourhood and the Criminal Investigations unit for crimes of unknown authorship), it would go to Federal Prosecutor Guillermo Marijuán, arguably Attorney General Alejandra Gils Carbó’s worst enemy within the legal profession.

Yet the issue here should never be Campagnoli but the extreme rarity of such sanctions. A prime culprit here is a dysfunctional Magistrates Council, whose reform was actually a core part of the government’s stillborn package, for better or for worse (probably the latter). Far more flagrant cases than Campagnoli (who is merely suspended with his guilt yet to be established) enjoy impunity while around a quarter of benches remain vacant. Many people might feel that corruption cases move far too slowly with almost total impunity while some watchdog institutions have been dismantled in the “won decade” but this calls for corrective action on a scale far beyond the Campagnoli case.

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